So here it is: after an 85 day break the new Premier League season begins this weekend. José Mourinho has added four high-class players to his squad and will now, presumably, concentrate on cutting some bloat before the window closes at the end of August. Indeed, Manchester United’s confidence and hopes are higher than at any time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. It’s a fine squad, albeit with some holes, that should challenge on multiple fronts this season. But who’s the best and the who’s the worst at Old Trafford. Rant ranks them all, from 30 to 1.
30. Sergio Romero
Remember those four games in which Louis van Gaal picked Romero ahead of De Gea at the start of last season? It was probably the highlight of the Argentinian’s short United career. The former Sampdoria player managed to let one through his legs against Swansea City, costing United a vital point. Romero is and has always been an average ‘keeper who will be rarely used this season.
29. Sam Johnstone
Nice chap, Sam, but what the 23-year-old is still doing at Old Trafford is beyond comprehension. Johnstone has enough natural talent to fashion a good career, but with De Gea ahead of him the Preston-born stopper will spend the season in United’s reserves – or out on loan. In truth, Johnstone needs to consider his permanent future away from Old Trafford for the good of his career.
28. Marcos Rojo
If ever there was a lesson in not purchasing players on the basis of a tournament performance or agent recommendation then Rojo is it. Supporters enjoy the Argentinian’s whole-hearted approach to the game, but that is about all he has produced of United-quality. Poor defensively, slow in attack, rash in the tackle and positionally horrible, Rojo should be high on the list of players to be sold before the transfer window closes.
27. Axel Tuanzebe
The youngster is unlikely to feature much this season, but there is plenty to admire in the Congo-born defender. Tuanzebe was United’s Young Player of the Season in 2015 – and fully deserved the honour. The defender made Louis van Gaal’s squad last season, and has been offered a number under Mourinho’s watch. He could feature in the cup competitions if a loan deal isn’t worked out his season.
26. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
With composure belying his youth, Borthwick-Jackson should prove to be a good asset this season. Defensive mistakes have been made, and there is still some positional naiveté to fix. Time is on the Englishman’s side, although with Luke Shaw and Daley Blind available he may not see that many minutes this season. Could move away on loan if Shaw, Blind and Rojo remain at the club.
Cameron Northwick-Jackson: star in the making
25. Matteo Darmian
The Italian began last season well, but it was the falsest of dawns. Then came inconsistency, injury and a frustrating realisation that Darmian is a defender first, and an attacking outlet never. True, some late-season performances suggested that there is more to come, but it would seem that Mourinho has little faith in the former Torino player. Likely to be Antonio Valencia’s understudy this season.
24. Phil Jones
So much innate talent, so little delivered in five years at Old Trafford. Injuries have certainly set the Lancastrian back, but there has also been a lack of development. Jones can’t have been helped by the chaos at United over the past three season; nor his propensity to get injured at just the wrong time. Rumours have it that Jones is first choice to partner Chris Smalling, although Eric Bailly’s natural talent will put pressure on that assumption pretty quickly.
23. Marouane Fellaini
It would appear that Mourinho has decided to keep the giant elbow-with-fluff attached midfielder. Presumably Fellaini’s height and physical presence matter, although the lack of talent on the ball is far more important. With a squad already larger that Mourinho would ideally like, many Reds may hope that the Belgian is moved on. He remains the symbol of a failed post-Ferguson era.
22. Morgan Schneiderlin
Once a box-to-box player at Southampton, Van Gaal tried and largely failed to convert the Frenchman into a defensive midfielder last season. Schneiderlin was inconspicuous when United needed dominance too many times last season. There is too much inconsistency, when the Reds needed somebody dependable. Yet, assuming that Mourinho doesn’t acquire another defensive midfielder, Schneiderlin may well be asked to perform that role again in the coming season.
21. Andreas Pereira
The Belgian-Brazilian has an outstanding range of technical skills, including a rare ability from dead ball situations. Yet, David Moyes and Louid van Gaal have both largely ignored the 20-year-old. It would appear that Pereira has at least five players ahead of him for a spot in the side in his favoured position at 10. Having signed a new contract last year, Pereira would benefit from a year away from Old Trafford on loan.
Andreas Pereira: heading out on loan
20. Adnan Januzaj
Ranked on talent not performances. Is the Belgian to be another wasted talent though? The boy who can do anything appears to be doing everything to alienate every manager he has worked for, bar Moyes. Van Gaal, Thomas Tuchel, Marc Wilmots – and now, apparently, Mourinho have failed to see what Moyes did. Ongoing frustration with Januzaj’s application abounds at Old Trafford. Likely to be loaned out, although that attitude must be rectified if he is to have any kind of future at United.
19. Antonio Valencia
The general logic is that Valencia is a defensive mistake waiting to happen, and a former winger too scared to attack. Some of that observation has been cast aside over the pre-season programme, with the Ecuadorian performing well enough to have seemingly secured a place in Mourinho’s team. Long-term Valencia is no kind of option though – the mistakes will come back in, the attacking contribution is just not strong enough.
18. Jesse Lingard
Two fantastic goals at Wembley will be remembered for some time. Lingard’s stunning volley in the FA Cup final was followed-up by a beautiful dribble and finish to open the scoring against Leicester City in the Community Shield. Yet, with some irony, Lingard’s finishing is by far the weakest part of his game. For an attacking player there should be more goals, more assists and a greater number of chances created. Lingard could feature in a more central role if Mourinho switches to a 4-3-3 system.
17. Timothy Fosu-Mensah
Ranked on talent more than performances to date. With a new contract on the table fears that Fosu-Mensah might not feature in Mourinho’s plans have been averted. This is good news, because the Dutchman’s natural talent is immense. Centre-back, right-back, defensive midfield: each appears to come naturally, although given the balance of the squad there is a chance he could break through on the right this season. Fosu-Mensah is a very classy kid, but can he mature under the new manager?
16. Memphis Depay
So much attacking talent, but so little application last season. Depay is frustrating and enigmatic – not in a good way. How could the Dutch international go from scoring 27 goals in the Eredivisie, to struggling almost perpetually at United? Something doesn’t quite add up. Still, Depay is the type of attacking, goalscoring – in theory – pacey winger Mourinho normally likes. Depay will struggle to get into the team ahead of Anthony Martial, who will seemingly spend the season on the left-wing.
Memphis Depay: enigmatic
15. Ashley Young
OK, so Young’s stats tell a story of a player who contributes almost nothing to the team – few goals, few assists, few chances created. That is not the whole story of Young’s United career, although Ferguson presumably expected more output when purchasing the winger from Aston Villa in 2011. Yet, Young’s team ethic, flexibility and pace still offer United something. Young Could benefit from Mourinho’s ability to craft teams that excel on the counter-attack. It’s the Englishman’s game.
14. Daley Blind
Blind performed well for much of last season at centre-back. The Dutchman’s lack of height, pace and strength were not often exploited, with an outstanding reading of the game Blind’s best quality. Yet, there were also too many games in which Blind found himself out of position, often resulting in calamitous goals conceded. Blind is likely to be first reserve in three positions this season: centre-back, left-back and defensive midfield. It sums up the Dutchman.
13. Michael Carrick
Clearly, the Geordie’s best years are well behind him, with the legs having gone at times last season. And yet Carrick’s experience and class on the ball still offer much. So much, in fact, that Mourinho has retained the Englishman and dumped Bastian Schweinsteiger. There is sound logic to that choice. It is almost certainly Carrick’s last season with United, but he could he be paired with the newly acquired Paul Pogba in central midfield.
12. Ander Herrera
Herrera’s busy style, energy around the pitch and crisp passing should have offered more to United than he has truly produced over the past two years. There have been excellent performances, but there have also been duds too – and far too little consistency. That’s not all Herrera’s fault, and in theory he should be a Mourinho-type player. There is a big season ahead for the Spaniard or he is likely to be on the ‘for sale’ list come summer 2017.
11. Wayne Rooney
The big question: when will Mourinho ease Rooney out of the team? Having failed to score 20 goals for four years, with three successive and regressive seasons of failure behind him, Rooney now offers too little to the side to truly earn a place. He is probably third or fourth best at both nine and 10 in the squad. Records will be broken this season, but they will come with a sense of what it? What if Rooney had taken better care of his physique; what if he wasn’t so obviously facing burn-out; what if that wonderful 18-year-old player had achieved everything he was supposed to. It didn’t quite happen – despite the records.
Wayne Rooney: captain, no longer fantastic
10. Eric Bailly
What potential the young Ivorian holds: fast over the ground, powerful in the challenge, and so comfortable on the ball. There have been mistakes in pre-season; times that the 22-year-old looks a little green. How quickly will that talent transfer to the Premier League and to Mourinho’s demanding standards at the back? Pre-season suggests that it shouldn’t take that long. Fans will be watching for those errors to be minimized quickly.
9. Chris Smalling
Two outstanding campaigns in succession from the former Fulham defender means that he will be Mourinho’s first choice at the back. Smalling’s form dipped a little after the new year last season, but with a coach as meticulous about defensive shape as Mourinho, Smalling should improve once again. With past fitness issues now a thing of the past, this is Smalling’s time.
8. Luke Shaw
What a beautiful sight it is to see Shaw back in Red this season. The horrendous leg-break at PSV Eindhoven is now forgotten and, for the moment, there are no ill-effects, physically or psychologically. Shaw’s natural penchant for attack is perfect for a Mourinho team, while his defensive game is mature for a player so young. Shaw’s class will add much to United this season; fine player, fine member of the squad.
7. Juan Mata
Many fans want the Spaniard to succeed at United, though the narrative on social media can become polarised quicky. He is a number 10 of the old school; foot-on-the-ball, all class and subtlety. Classical music in an age of heavy metal. Mata is lovely to watch, but a player who does not sit well with the pacey, all action, physical – modern – game that Mourinho demands. Mata could excel at 10 in Mourinho’s system, but the Portuguese would have to drop his captain and that is unlikely to happen. It is more likely that Mata spends the season on the bench – if not away from Old Trafford altogether.
6. Marcus Rashford
How good can Rashford become? The 18-year-old burst on the scene last season almost by accident, but there is no doubt that he is a key member of Mourinho’s squad now. The direct style, smart finishing and blistering pace will be important as the season matures, but Rashford may initially find himself out of the team or used in wide areas by the new manager. Yet, he is good enough to challenge Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a place in the team – or could the pair work together, with the Swede just a touch behind? Either way, there should be some explosive moments to come.
Marcus Rashford: goalscorer
5. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
What a lovely player. The Armenian adds genuine creativity, pace and class to United’s attack – and will likely play on the right of Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 system. He might be even better in the centre of the pitch. Indeed, logic dictates that Rooney drop out for Mkhitaryan or Mata at 10, although the Englishman is guaranteed a spot for now. There shouldn’t be too many games, such as the one at Wembley last weekend, that the former Borussia Dortmund player finds himself on the bench.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
It is a strange assessment, but the jury may still be out on Zlatan’s ability to perform in England. The Swede’s fine headed goal at Wembley suggests that he will be a strong asset in the air for United this season; his movement around the box is truly world-class, and there are few better finishers in world football. Yet, the doubts surround Ibrahimovic’s lack of pace, age – he is 35 in October – and propensity to drop deep, into Rooney (and Paul Pogba’s) zone. Needs pace around him to succeed at United.
3. Antony Martial
World-class forward in the making, Martial has spent part of his United career as a devastating number nine, part as a quick and direct number 11. It is likely that the Frenchman will spend much of the campaign on the left, and he can be devastating in that role. Yet, there is also a school of though that says Martial can produce even more damage through the middle. Either way, Martial’s second season at United should be explosive.
2. Paul Pogba
Is Pogba the best all-round central midfielder on the planet? Perhaps not just yet, although the Frenchman’s performances this season could cement that title in the near future. Pogba is best as a classic midfield runner – an old-fashioned number eight, who can create, score goals and make those important third-man runs. Much depends on how much freedom Mourinho offers his new recruit – in a deeper role Pogba can be inhibited, further forward and all that technical class comes to the fore.
1. David de Gea
World-class goalkeeper and perhaps the only player in United’s squad to legitimately lay claim to the title of ‘best in the world’ in his position, having performed more consistently than Manuel Neuer over the last three seasons. Mourinho’s arrival secured de Gea’s long-term future at the club, but it would be a curious season indeed if the Spaniard is named United’s player of the year for the fourth campaign in succession.
David de Gea: the world’s best
Guillermo Varela, Tyler Blackett, and James Wilson have not been offered a squad number. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been told he has no future at the club.