Manchester United had almost exactly a month between the end of the 2019/20 season and the start of 2020/21, in a recipe that proved fairly disastrous for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Finishing a season with defeat in a Europa League knockout tie is now fairly commonplace for United, but the 33 days they got between losing 2-1 to Sevilla on August 16th and losing to Crystal Palace on September 19th really took its toll.
United were very sluggish for the opening few weeks of the season, having had just one pre-season friendly — in which 11 senior players did not feature. They performed well in just one of their opening six Premier League fixtures, against Newcastle, and even in that game they had to fight back from a goal down.
Solskjaer will hope things are different in 2021, with United preparing a more robust pre-season programme, both in terms of matches and training sessions.
Of course there is the thorny issue of many players’ involvement in this summer’s European Championship — especially the fatigued Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, plus the injured Harry Maguire — but there will be more than a month between the Euro 2020 final (July 11st) and the start of the new Premier League season (August 14th).
Solskjaer may secretly be hoping his players’ nations get knocked out nice and early, giving them more time to spend with their feet up on a beach somewhere (restrictions allowing).
Either way, he must begin to assemble a squad capable of competing for next season’s Premier League title, having overseen a progressive season to finish second last term.
Man City are the team to beat, though United will find it difficult enough to maintain second, with Chelsea and Liverpool likely to improve on last year’s showings.
These days United and their Premier League rivals can name a matchday squad of 20 — though a maximum of only three subs can be used.
So providing they can keep Paul Pogba and David de Gea, two of the possible high-profile departures this summer, United should have a much stronger 20 in August than they had in May.
Adding Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane now seems a minimum requirement, given United’s needs at both right-wing and centre-back, though they might struggle to find the funds for both of those as well as a striker (like Harry Kane or Erling Haaland) and a defensive midfielder (such as Declan Rice).
Kieran Trippier should be attainable as a back-up right-back option, while Tom Heaton could be the No.2 keeper if he arrives and De Gea leaves.
United should keep Alex Telles to join Trippier in keeping the pressure on the first-choice full-backs, while last season’s defensive bench mainstays like Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe may be allowed to leave either permanently or on loan. Other youngsters like James Garner, Shola Shoretire and Teden Mengi may also be loaned.
Amad ought to be retained to provide support on the flanks, with Anthony Martial and Sancho competing with Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood for a berth in the front three.
The fact Solskjaer finished 2020/21 with a game — the Europa League final — in which he refused to make a substitution until the 100th minute showed he didn’t have the depth he wanted. United had nowhere near like 20 players to rotate as a first-team squad.
They must be stronger when the new season commences in August.
Possible United 20-man matchday squad:
Starting XI: Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; Fred, Pogba; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Cavani.
Subs: De Gea, Trippier, Telles, Lindelof, McTominay, Van de Beek, James, Amad, Greenwood.