While finishing in the top four and winning a trophy wouldn’t have been much to brag about a decade or so earlier, in the current climate, we can be pleased with what Erik ten Hag achieved in his first season as manager.
With United looking to kick on this season, starting with our opening game against Wolves on Monday night, I spoke to some of the best journalists in the country for the RoM charity preview to find out which players they expect to lead the way for United this season.
Daniel Taylor, Senior football writer at The Athletic: Is it too much to think that this might be the year when, finally, we see the best of Jadon Sancho? I wouldn’t say I’m expecting it – it’s more hope than expectation – but that would make a huge difference because, as it stands, United have been disappointing in the transfer market and the team look short, yet again, in attack.
Henry Winter, Chief Football Writer at The Times: Andre Onana will allow United to play higher up the field, Ten Hag knows him well, and he perfectly suits United’s new style. Mason Mount has a point to prove and there’s a very good player in there bursting to get out. I’ve heard people talk about him wide but he’s a No 8. He’ll bring passing, energy and a will to win.
Oliver Holt, Chief sports writer at The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday: Bruno Fernandes. I’m not a fan of his behaviour on the pitch. I don’t know many people who are. His constant whingeing winds me up. But I still think he has the potential to be United’s best player and the signing of Mason Mount will help him. I think Mount will be an upgrade on Eriksen, too. Eriksen has been a wonderful player but he is a fading force and Mount will reinvigorate the United midfield.
James Ducker, Northern football correspondent and The Daily and Sunday Telegraph: Antony had a better first season than he is probably given credit for but it is clear there are question marks still and huge grounds for improvement. I expect he will be better next season but United will really need him to offer a greater consistency and threat. There are, naturally, high hopes for Alejandro Garnacho and hopefully he can build on an impressive breakthrough season. Ten Hag needs Mason Mount to hit the ground running but the most exciting additions could be in the goalkeeper and striker departments. If they get a deal over the line for Victor Onana, he could have a hugely positively impact on the way Ten Hag wants to play but United have to get the recruitment of a centre forward right. The absence of a quality striker last season was a major headache for the manager.
Oliver Kay, Senior Football Writer at The Athletic: The obvious thing is to look for the talented younger players who have shown flashes of real quality — so Sancho, Antony and perhaps Pellistri and Garnacho, whose potential is obvious. But Sancho is a bit of a worry because it’s been two seasons and he hasn’t looked like the confident figure I was expecting from his time at Dortmund. Antony frustrates me slightly. When I talk about “flashes” of real quality, that really has been the case. At 23, he needs to go up a level in terms of consistency and all-round performance. I’m more enthused by Garnacho, who has only just turned 19 but looks ready to push for a regular starting place — or at very least a regular starring role from the bench.
Charlotte Duncker, Football Reporter for The Times: Mount arrives with high expectations but he has already shown he is capable of performing well in the Premier League and it will be interesting to see how Ten Hag uses him in his system. If he plays him in a double 8 alongside Fernandes it could be their partnership that is key to United’s success next season. I’m expecting bigger and better things from Rashford again. He looked transformed last season but there’s no reason why he can’t take it up another level next season, especially if they bring in another forward who he can link up with.
Darren Lewis, Assistant editor at The Mirror and Senior sports analyst at CNN Sport: Jason Sancho. He is a fine player, an intelligent athlete, still young and, like Rashford before his injury, I think he will ram the short-term pessimism of a lot of people down their throats. The best is yet to come from him.