Mon. Sep 28th, 2020

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Bruno Fernandes might have a new Man United teammate who is just like him

4 min read

Manchester United lost 1-0 to Aston Villa in a behind-closed-doors pre-season friendly, with Ollie Watkins scoring the only goal of the game. Here are the main talking points from the game.

Van de Beek could have Fernandes impact

It wasn’t just the sublime turn on the 40-minute mark, which MUTV’s commentators compared to Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, that showed what Donny van de Beek can do. It was his entire performance, for the whole 90 minutes, that showed United may well have signed a gem in the former Ajax playmaker.

And while there may be gripes from some United fans unhappy that their side lost the game, and the fact that former transfer target Jack Grealish was influential in Villa’s win, they cannot complain about Van de Beek’s display. The 23-year-old looked particularly sharp when paired with Scott McTominay in the first half, setting up a number of United chances that ought to have been converted.

Although he did not have as much of an effect in the No.10 role in the second half, it’s fair to suggest Van de Beek could replicate the impact made by United’s other big-name midfield signing of 2020, Bruno Fernandes.

He looks like a player who has already settled into the United squad, as Luke Shaw attested to when speaking to United’s in-house TV channel after the game. It would be a surprise if Van de Beek did not start against Crystal Palace, by the looks of his fitness and form, even if Fernandes is ready to play. United simply must find a place for the vibrant Dutchman.

James improvement amid Sancho talk

The speculation around United and Jadon Sancho has been almost unrelenting all summer long and would not have been missed by the winger they signed last summer, the man who played on the right flank more often than anyone else last term, Daniel James.

James could not really have any complaints when he was dropped for Mason Greenwood after the restart, given the duo’s form at the time. And he would accept a fringe role behind someone like Sancho. But that does not mean he isn’t eager to prove a point and improve his own game to at least give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a decision to make.

It looked to be that way at Villa Park, as James shone albeit in defeat for United. Okay, he still has work to do on his end product, but it was refreshing to see that confidence of early 2019/20 return to the Welshman’s play, as he took players on and registered some dangerous crosses and shots.

Having been linked with a loan exit at one stage earlier in the summer, James can show he still has a major role to play in Solskjaer’s squad this coming season.

The Real defensive issue

Much of the transfer talk, bar Sancho, this summer has centred on the possible addition of a left-back. Sergio Reguilon’s name is the latest on the lips of United fans, amid the suggestion that the former Sevilla player is unwanted by Real Madrid and available for a transfer.

But United have given a different indication. They have been happy with their left-back situation since Brandon Williams emerged to put pressure on Shaw midway through last season, with the result being an improved Shaw.

United badly missed the former Southampton man in the Premier League run-in when he was struck down by an ankle problem. Before that, he had been arguably their most consistent player, even if sometimes he receives undue stick from supporters.

Shaw looked his normal solid self against Villa, providing a threat on the overlap and rarely troubled in the other direction.

United’s bigger issue may be at centre-back, where Harry Maguire probably needs a more imposing and experienced partner. He was joined by Timothy Fosu-Mensah and then Teden Mengi versus Villa and, in fairness, neither did badly, but Maguire was exposed by Watkins for the goal and United ought to consider a central defensive addition before the transfer window shuts.

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Things to be positive about

There was no Greenwood, Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, David De Gea, Victor Lindelof, Anthony Martial, Fred or Nemanja Matic in United’s squad for this Villa game. So perhaps an under-par performance would have been understandable.

Yet United actually played well despite being shorn of more than half the first 11 that started five successive games after the restart last season. Their level dropped after McTominay went off at half-time, but that was to be expected given that three novices (Ethan Galbraith, Teden Mengi and Anthony Elanga) finished on the pitch, playing against a virtual full-strength Villa.

Solskjaer will be content given the nature of the display, rather than feel concerned about the result itself. The signs are decent going into the opening game of the season next week.

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