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Thursday 22 August 2019

Ole's race against time

Situation fluid as Reds boss seeks to have his side ready

Ole Gunnar Solksjaer with teen prodigy Mason Greenwood in Australia
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer with teen prodigy Mason Greenwood in Australia

"The earlier you can do the transfers, the better it is," said Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as last season ended in disarray.

At the time, it was believed that the Norwegian had seven new signings in mind as he planned to restructure his squad in the hope of halting a slide into mediocrity.

With three weeks to go before the transfer window shuts on August 8, Solskjaer has just two confirmed new signings as he works diligently to build a squad that can improve on last season's sixth place in the league.

"Building a team or rebuilding a squad takes time," he says.

Tour

Currently on the club's pre-season tour of Australia and Asia, Solskjaer has a 28-man squad to work with.

It's a squad that includes Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and David De Gea, players whose future at Old Trafford remains clouded with uncertainty.

Meanwhile back home, on £500,000 a week, Alexis Sanchez , on a break after the Copa America, seems set to become the league's most expensive bit part player.

Despite the uncertainty, Solskjaer remains resolutely positive, striking an optimistic note. "Our players do have quality," he says. "They do have a chance. We just need consistency."

It was lack of consistency which scuppered any chance Man United had of playing Champions League football next season.

Having joined as caretaker manager before Christmas, Solskjaer took the team on a record-breaking streak that saw United win 14 of 19 games, a dramatic reversal of fortunes that saw the club make his position permanent on March 28.

Astonishingly, that was as good as things got for Manchester United last season, as the team's form slumped drastically with just two wins in their last ten matches.

"I'm always an optimist," said Solskjaer ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Leeds United in Perth.

With three weeks to get things right, Manchester United are in a race against time if they are to salvage their season before the League even kicks off again with a game against Frank Lampard's Chelsea.

The situation is fluid, with plenty of tantalising speculation about possible new signings as well as a rejuvenated Pogba and De Gea remaining at Old Trafford.

A 4-0 defeat of old rivals Leeds is not a barometer of the skill, resilience and tactical nous required to challenge for a Premier League title across a demanding season, so there's still some trading to be done before the season starts.

And having conceded 54 Premier League goals last season, Solskjaer desperately needs to shore up his defence. That's where Leicester's centre-back Harry Maguire comes in.

As negotiations continue, Man United supporters worry the club may miss out on Sporting and Portugal midfielder Bruno Fernandes.

The 24-year old scored 32 goals in 50 games last season and would be an asset to the club, with or without Paul Pogba.

Another midfielder on the radar as a replacement for want away Pogba is Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

And Man United have also been showing interest in Newcastle's midfielder Sean Longstaff.

While his agent seems determined to take United's top scorer last season away from Old Trafford, Paul Pogba, has also stated he wants a new challenge.

Solskjaer plays a straight bat saying: "I can give him a new challenge. Paul is a top boy and a great player. He's never been a problem."

Now cautioning against wholesale signings, the manager says, "It can't be a quick fix. If suddenly two or three will go, then you will have to replace players."

With new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James slotting into the squad, Solskjaer is bullish on players from the club's academy.

Teen prodigy, Mason Greenwood (17) has already impressed. "He's got a chance to start (the season opener) definitely," the manager says.

"He's more than capable. It's difficult to keep players out if they keep playing well."

Academy players shining in pre-season is a far cry from winter clashes with top table rivals.

Developments over the next couple of weeks could yet determine the outcome of Manchester United's upcoming season.

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