Will Manchester United mount a Premier League title challenge?

Watch Manchester United vs Crystal Palace from 5pm on Saturday live on Sky Sports Premier League; Kick-off 5.30pm

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Image: The are plenty of questions facing Ole Gunnar Solskaer as the season approaches

Manchester United have found themselves in a state of flux in trying to prise Jadon Sancho away from Borussia Dortmund but the focus must now turn to making a winning start to the new Premier League season.

Crystal Palace are the visitors to Old Trafford this Saturday, live on Sky Sports, and United stand on the cusp of a new campaign with a renewed and realistic sense of optimism that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can take them to the next level.

Live Premier League

But his side remain suspect defensively and vulnerable to pace on the break, meaning even greater reliance will be placed on a dynamic attack. That said, an encouraging finish to the 2019/20 Premier League campaign has built stable foundations as United aim to close the gap on the champions of the previous two seasons.

Download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Podcast on Apple - or listen on Spotify above...

Neville: 'United have to be ready to strike'

preview image 0:46
Micah Richards and Gary Neville have their say on Manchester United's transfer business so far

Gary Neville believes his former club need to put themselves in a position to pounce when Liverpool and Manchester City come to the natural end of their current cycle as the Premier League's two dominant forces.

He told Sky Sports: "I think Manchester United are in a similar position to Chelsea. They've got to make progression from last season, and I don't have that expectation as a United fan that they're going to break that top two this season.

"I don't feel they're quite ready but they have to make sure that gap is smaller. The have to make sure they close the gap on the top two and make sure they're progressing.

Also See:

"A striker, a right winger and a centre-half is a must. At some point in the next couple of years, Manchester United and Chelsea need to be ready to strike when Manchester City and Liverpool drop below that standard. That's probably going to be when Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp leave."

Richards: 'United still far off Liverpool and City'

Jadon Sancho during the pre-season friendly between Borussia Dortmund and FK Austria Wien 4:24
Sky Sports News' Dharmesh Sheth says Manchester United do not want to pay £108m outright for Jadon Sancho and have always had that view throughout the transfer window

United finished in third last season, still some 15 points behind their rivals City and a staggering 33 points behind the champions Liverpool.

Despite being strongly linked with moves for Jadon Sancho and Gareth Bale, the £39m arrival of Donny van de Beek remains their only piece of summer business ahead of their opening Premier League game with Crystal Palace, live on Sky Sports.

Sky Sports' Micah Richards added: "I don't think United have strengthened enough at present to challenge for the title next season. I think the arrival of Donny van de Beek improves them, but when you look at Manchester City and Liverpool their cohesion is infinitely better than United's still.

"When you get new players, it doesn't mean you're going to be a great team overnight. When you look at what Jurgen Klopp has done... he arrived at Liverpool five years ago, and it took him time to reach the heights.

"I think they'll be massively improved and they've got more strength in depth, but I still think they'll be far off Liverpool and Manchester City."

Will De Gea start in goal?

Manchester United

The debate rumbles on as to who will be United's No 1 this season.

After a host of high-profile errors in 2019/20, Dean Henderson's return to Old Trafford after two successful seasons on loan at Sheffield United has plunged incumbent David de Gea's position into doubt.

Gary Neville is adamant that De Gea will start the campaign, but warned the ongoing goalkeeping situation could represent a genuine threat to the club's ambitions this season.

"We're already talking about who will be the United No 1," he told Sky Sports. "I personally do think David de Gea will be and the big thing at the moment for Dean Henderson is that he's unproven at Manchester United's level. He's going to come under scrutiny more than ever before.

GRAPHIC

"Every time David de Gea does something wrong, there's going to be that question asked about whether Dean Henderson is going to come in. What we're about to find out is the deal Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done with Henderson and De Gea. What has he said to them both to accept that they're going to challenge?

"Is it a straight challenge where they're both going to be given an equal opportunity? Is it that Henderson's coming back as No 2 and he's going to play in the cups? Has David de Gea been told he's got one more season, Dean's going to watch him and then next season he's going to be in?

"Something's going to have to give at some point as Henderson will leave if he doesn't get in."

Sixty-three per cent of Sky Sports viewers believe Henderson should be the new United No 1, according to a recent poll.

"I think it's a good situation for Solskjaer because this gives him 12 months to look at Dean Henderson," Jamie Carragher added.

"Is Henderson good enough for Manchester United? I'm not quite sure. I think in 12 months' time United could sell the two of them and buy a world-class goalkeeper."

David de Gea could face competition from Henderson for the number one shirt next season 1:20
Gary Neville is confident David de Gea will start the season as Manchester United’s No 1 goalkeeper over Dean Henderson

Jamie Redknapp fears Solskjaer is on a hiding to nothing whichever option he takes.

He told Sky Sports: "This is a nightmare situation for Solskjaer. If he goes with David de Gea as his No 1, the first mistake he makes, everyone will be clambering to get Henderson into the team.

"I don't think it'll be healthy. Most of the clubs in the Premier League you know their No 1 goalkeeper, but with the start of the season approaching, we don't know who it is at Manchester United."

Is the defence good enough?

Harry Maguire is likely to partner Victor Lindelof at the back again this term
Image: Harry Maguire is likely to partner Victor Lindelof at the back again this term

During the club's 19-game unbeaten run either side of last season's lockdown, Solskjaer found a degree of consistency around his preferred defence with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof and captain Harry Maguire becoming mainstays of the team in front of De Gea.

But that run wasn't without its defensive hiccups with Bournemouth scoring twice during the 5-2 victory preceding the 2-2 home draw with Southampton. By the time Chelsea deservedly inflicted a 3-1 defeat in the FA Cup semi-finals, there was the sense a bad result had been coming.

Manchester United conceded most of their Premier League goals via the left
Image: Manchester United conceded most of their Premier League goals via the left

Sevilla's come-from-behind victory in the Europa League last four further underlined the improvement needed defensively if United are to stage an assault for silverware on multiple fronts - but they are yet to bring in any reinforcements.

Solskjaer has quantity over quality in this department; Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Axel Tuanzebe remain on the club's books.

Will Fernandes, Van de Beek and Pogba gel in midfield?

Solskjaer believes Van de Beek is an excellent addition to Manchester United's squad.
Image: Solskjaer believes Donny van de Beek is an excellent addition to United's squad.

United were meandering towards a mediocre finish when Bruno Fernandes arrived in January. The Portuguese proved the catalyst for change and upped the standards of those around him.

Paul Pogba's continued absence at the start of the year left question marks over how the pair would gel once the Frenchman returned but it turned out good players tend to play well alongside one another.

That will be the expectation once more now that Donny van de Beek has arrived. Solskjaer was reluctant to tinker with his back line and forward three, meaning he may well already have his first-choice XI in mind with these three controlling the midfield.

TOP STATS

The bare minimum this season must be to replicate last season's third-place finish while a far greater title challenge will be demanded by supporters.

The Dutchman will provide extra creativity and Fernandes will be targeting a repeat performance after his 12 goals in just half a season.

Then, there is Pogba. You are never quite sure what you're going to get but if the Frenchman can bring his World Cup-winning consistency to United, they will be a match for any side.

Who would be the perfect Sancho alternative?

GRAPHIC

United will want to improve in front of goal, having scored fewer goals than Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester last season, while ranking eighth for creating big chances.

Solskjaer likes his wide men to break through lines, but the stats also suggest there could be scope for his team to press opponents further up the pitch.

United are not giving up on signing Sancho, but as it stands they are yet to have agreed a transfer fee, agent fees or personal terms with the player.

GRAPHIC

A loan move for Real Madrid's Gareth Bale might have been the perfect alternative to the England winger, but he is heading for a sensational return to Tottenham.

Sky Sports reporter Dharmesh Sheth told The Transfer Show: "Was there an interest in signing Bale? Yes. But we're told there have been no credible negotiations or dialogue between the two parties which begs the question why there hasn't been.

"There was a widely understood belief that Bale wanted to go back to Tottenham and that feeling has since been confirmed by his agent Jonathan Barnett. Signing Bale would have gone against their rebuilding process and their wage structure.

"Yes, United are looking at alternatives to Sancho - we've spoken about Ivan Perisic, Douglas Costa and even Kingsley Coman but they would never command the same sort of wages that Bale would command."

Will the front three rival Liverpool's?

Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford
Image: Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Rashford were on fire last season

Will Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood eclipse the number of goals scored by Liverpool's potent trio once more?

United's promising attacking unit scored 62 goals between them in the 2019/20 campaign - six more than the collective total achieved by Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

United played 61 games last season compared to Liverpool's 57 with many of those coming in the Europa League against inferior opposition so it will be a greater challenge to outscore their rivals this time around with Champions League football back at Old Trafford.

It should also be noted that United were awarded 14 penalties in 2019/20, the most a team has ever won in a single campaign in the competition, so reaching such a high tally of spot-kicks again is unlikely.

Will Man Utd make another fast start?

Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba
Image: Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba will feature against Palace
  • Manchester United have only lost one of their 22 Premier League meetings with Crystal Palace (W17 D4). However, this defeat came in this exact fixture last season after Patrick van Aanholt became the first (and to date, only) visiting player to score a 90th-minute winner away to Man Utd in the Premier League.
  • Crystal Palace have never previously won back-to-back league trips to Manchester United; only six sides have won away at Old Trafford in consecutive Premier League seasons - Man City (three in a row on two occasions), Bolton, Liverpool, Southampton, Tottenham and West Brom.
  • Crystal Palace are unbeaten in their last four Premier League away games against the two Manchester sides (W2 D2) - the last side to go five such games unbeaten in the competition were Chelsea between May 2013-October 2014 (W2 D3).
  • Manchester United have won their opening Premier League fixture more often than any other side in the competition (19), though this is the first time their season opener has not taken place on the opening weekend.
  • Crystal Palace have never started a top-flight campaign with two consecutive victories before, last doing so in any division in the 2006-07 Championship.

How to follow Man Utd vs Crystal Palace

Man Utd vs Crystal Palace
Image: Watch Man Utd vs Crystal Palace live on Sky Sports Premier League

Manchester United vs Crystal Palace will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off at 5.30pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.

Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.

ONE MILLION POUNDS! Can you imagine?

ONE MILLION POUNDS! Can you imagine?

You read correctly. Do not miss your chance to scoop £1m for free in this week's Super 6 round. Play for free, entries by 3pm Saturday.

Around Sky