Manchester United: Five takeaways from pre-season tour of Thailand & Australia


Jadon Sancho of Manchester United celebrates scoring a goal
Jadon Sancho was on target during the draw with Aston Villa in Perth

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag says he has seen “a lot of progress” from his team during their two weeks in Thailand and Australia.

Does he mean progress from the first day of pre-season training at the end of June? Or progress from that pitiful 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace on the final day of last season, which Ten Hag watched from the Selhurst Park stands.

Whichever – Ten Hag’s arrival has undoubtedly had an impact.

He has been complaining about media being stationed too close to where his players were training; and stressing “rest is training” as a pointer to any United staff who think down time can be filled with non-football activities.

The 52-year-old former Ajax boss is clearly in charge now.

BBC Sport has followed United on their two-week trip to Thailand and Australia.

Here, we assess what has happened. And the issues still to be faced ahead of the Premier League opener with Brighton at Old Trafford on 7 August.

No-nonsense Ten Hag

Early impressions of Ten Hag have been overwhelmingly positive in the four weeks he’s been working with his players.

Whether it is delivering an expletive-laden response to a mis-placed pass in training or blowing his whistle to repeat a drill that was not executed to his satisfaction, Ten Hag is not afraid to step in.

“He is taking no nonsense,” was the observation of one well-placed club source, but not in quite such polite terms.

If players are late for training or team meetings, they are told their conduct is unacceptable in no uncertain manner.

While this authority would appear obvious, the manner of United’s drift last season suggested messages were npt being acted on. They are now.

Getting the most out of Martial

Had Anthony Martial excelled during his loan spell at Sevilla in the second half of last season, he might not have even been at United now.

Instead, Sevilla decided not to take up an option on the enigmatic Frenchman, who scored one goal in 12 games for the La Liga outfit. And, Martial has excelled on tour, scoring in the first three games and looking a real danger.

There has never been any doubt over Martial’s ability. The issue has been consistency of application. It is far too early to say whether Ten Hag has worked out how Martial ticks.

The United boss says he is looking for a striker and the issue of Cristiano Ronaldo is still to be resolved.

Sancho and Dalot a good combination

It is obvious Ten Hag has been looking at various combinations on this trip and to that end, Jadon Sancho’s partnership with Diogo Dalot on the United right has looked very effective.

His goal in Perth meant Sancho finished the tour as joint top scorer with Martial on three. Sancho’s first season at United following his £73m arrival from Borussia Dortmund was not a success. In Bangkok and Australia there has been more evidence of his quick feet and ability to beat an opponent in very little space.

Dalot appears to be winning the battle with Aaron Wan-Bissaka for the right-back role and while his defending still has flaws, from an offensive perspective the 23-year-old Portuguese is more effective.

Potentially, that creates a double threat on the United right – and more space for Sancho as Dalot could not be ignored.

The Ronaldo question

Halfway through United’s final tour game in Perth, a picture of Ronaldo, bare torso, wearing United shorts, was posted on his Twitter feed. It was liked by over 200,000 followers in less than three hours.

In the same period, the biggest number of likes United got for their match coverage was around 14,000, for Sancho’s opening goal.

Ronaldo’s ability to attract attention is sometimes far greater than the club he plays for and the spectre of the five-time Ballon D’Or winner has followed United throughout their two-week trip even though nothing materially has changed around the Premier League’s best paid player.

The 37-year-old is yet to report for training due to a family issue and he still wants to join a Champions League qualified club. Links have continued to appear – Atletico Madrid is the latest – but Ten Hag continues to say he expects Ronaldo to return.

However, there was a subtle change of emphasis in his news conference on Friday. Ten Hag said it was “vital” United signed a striker. If there was watertight confidence Ronaldo was coming back, the need would not appear to be so critical.

De Jong wait goes on

The other name that has not gone away is that of Frenkie de Jong.

The Dutch midfielder went on Barcelona’s pre-season tour of the United States and it now seems obvious that if that deal is to be done, it will not be until much nearer the 1 September transfer deadline.

That would leave United with five Premier League matches to play at least without the midfield addition Ten Hag wants above anyone else. He has already said if he can’t get the player he wants, he will mould one from his existing squad.

The indications so far are that person is Fred, who has energy and enthusiasm, as well as being a positive influence on the dressing room, but has never shown the ability to dictate the pace of a game, which is what Ten Hag is looking for.

Yet, with Christian Eriksen’s calming influence to call on and Ten Hag’s managerial abilities, it is possible United can find a combination that at least makes them competitive – and put them in a better position to attract better players in 12 months’ time.

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