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23rd Jul 2018

The Man United team that could start first game of the Premier League season may worry fans

They don't exactly look like champions in waiting

Robert Redmond

Manchester United’s pre-season hasn’t gone to plan so far.

Jose Mourinho’s team began their preparations with a friendly against Club America in Arizona last week, which finished 1-1. They followed that up with a goalless draw against San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday night.

United are without several key players due to the World Cup and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of new arrivals. There are just over three weeks left before the transfer window closes and the Premier League begins and some Red Devils fans might be concerned.

As it stands, barring any injuries or new arrivals, this could be the starting XI when United host Leicester City on Friday, August 10 at Old Trafford.

United are set to be without Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard for the match, as all were involved in the latter stages of the World Cup.

At the moment, it looks as though Antonio Valencia will captain the side and start at right-back. The Ecuadorian, who turns 33 next month, inherited the captain’s armband from the retired Michael Carrick.

At left-back, Luke Shaw looks set to start United’s first match of the season, something very few would have predicted a few months ago. Shaw has been on the end of several rebukes from Mourinho during their time together at Old Trafford and has long been linked with a move away.

However, with Young set to be unavailable because of his involvement with England at the World Cup, and no sign of a new left-back, it looks like Shaw will get the nod. Juventus’ Alex Sandro has been touted as a possible signing, but he reportedly prefers a move to Paris Saint-Germain. Diogo Dalot, United’s new 19-year-old full-back, could get the nod at left-back. But Mourinho may opt for the more experienced Shaw. The United manager will at least have someone to blame then if it goes wrong.

United are understood to be interested in signing Harry Maguire from Leicester.

However, even if they land the England central defender, he probably won’t be available for the tie at Old Trafford because of his involvement in the latter stages of the World Cup. It could be Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling that start the opening game of the Premier League, as neither player were involved in the World Cup.

In midfield, Jose will probably opt for Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Fred. Fellaini was involved in the World Cup until the final weekend, as Belgium finished third, and Pogba won’t be available because of his participation in the World Cup final.

Mourinho is said to want another midfielder, and United have been linked with a move for Thiago Alcantara. But the Bayern Munich midfielder is said to prefer a move back to Barcelona should he leave the German champions.

Up front, it looks like Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez will start either side of Anthony Martial. The French forward is another who has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford. Marital’s agent has said that his client would like to leave after he fell out of favour last season and missed out on a place in France’s World Cup squad. Chelsea are among the clubs said to be interested in the 22-year-old.

Yet, it looks like Martial may have to stay. Mourinho has effectively said that the player needs to just get on with his job, rather than seeking a move away.

“I would like to be in Los Angeles now and I am in San Jose. You cannot do whatever you want in life,” Mourinho told reporters when asked about Marital’s desire to leave following the draw with the MLS side.

“I would love to arrive in Los Angeles, to train in Los Angeles and play all my five matches in Los Angeles, and then don’t travel, don’t change hotel and then go back to Manchester. I would like to play against Leicester on Sunday but I have to play on Friday, so you don’t get always in life what you want.”

Mourinho bemoaned the absence of Romelu Lukaku after a loss to Brighton late last season, a game in which Martial and Rashford started up front. So, it appears he doesn’t trust the Frenchman to play as a striker.

On top of recruitment headaches and the absence of key players, there are other questions hanging over United as they prepare for the new season.

Will they able to close the 19-point gap from last season on champions Manchester City? Can they counter the challenge of Liverpool? Can Mourinho improve the style of play that rankled with some fans? And will he be able to get more from his squad which underperformed at times last season?

For what it’s worth, the bookies don’t seem to think so. United have odds of 8/1 to win the Premier League title next season, making them third-favourites for the title behind City and Liverpool.