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Manchester United return after pre-season tour full of positives

Paul Pogba and a crop of emerging talent leave lasting memories for Sky Sports News reporter James Cooper as he reflects on his travels with Manchester United

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Image: Manchester United return to Europe after winning all four of their pre-season matches in Australia and the Far East

From Paul Pogba's professionalism to the rising academy stars, Sky Sports News' James Cooper reflects on a pre-season tour packed full of positives for Manchester United...

Fitter, stronger, leaner, meaner

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants his Manchester United team to be fitter, stronger, leaner and meaner when the season starts and that's been the major success story of almost three weeks in Australia and the Far East.

The base work was done in the historic surroundings of the WACA in Perth, double session after double session, on a pitch part-prepared by United's ground staff. They remained with the tour throughout and there were no real problems with any surface, in contrast to previous tours.

Winter time in Western Australia provided the perfect conditions to establish "front foot football", Solskjaer's mantra, with the heat and humidity of Singapore and Shanghai all about brutal fitness work.

The United players completed a workload twice as extensive as last summer's pre-season under Jose Mourinho, clocking up around 50 sessions while on their travels.

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Academy players impress

Four wins from four reads very well; so too does the single goal conceded, but United are delighted by this stat in particular - every one of their nine goals was scored or assisted by a product of their academy.

Solskjaer has discovered a promising supply of youngsters who already have the DNA and attributes he is looking for in the rest of his squad. The likes of Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, Axel Tuanzebe and James Garner are all mobile and agile, and all impressed on tour.

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Mason Greenwood
Image: Mason Greenwood was one of the standout players on tour

The standout was 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, who returns home with two goals to his name and the praise of his manager and more established players ringing in his ears.

Greenwood has matured and grown over the past 12 months and the uncertainty over Romelu Lukaku's future may play into his hands. Solskjaer is certainly a big fan.

Pogba the model performer

The script was supposed to go that Paul Pogba, reluctantly dragged on United's pre-season draw, would ramp up his desire to leave the club. That didn't happen.

Paul Pogba
Image: Could Paul Pogba be United's next captain?

The Frenchman was a model performer on and off the pitch, perhaps a sign that simple economics might mean he sticks rather than twists.

Solskjaer wants to build a team around Pogba - he's known him a long time and seems confident he will stay. A late departure though would cause a major problem with the new season looming.

It'll be intriguing to see just who Solskjaer plumps for as his captain. Pogba could be a real candidate after the manner in which he conducted himself on tour, that is if he stays.

Lukaku obstacles linger

Lukaku missed several training sessions with an ankle knock, didn't take part in any games, and looked off the pace and rather forlorn as he underwent solo rehab sessions.

Romelu Lukaku turns up for training during Manchester United official training/press conference at the Singapore National Stadium on July 19, 2019 in Singapore.
Image: Romelu Lukaku often cut a forlorn figure on United's pre-season tour

Again, economics might prevent Lukaku from getting the move he wants, unless United get the fee they are looking for.

So far there's a big gap between what's been offered and what's required. If he remains, match fitness and reintegration will be Lukaku's biggest obstacles.

Fresh faces fitting in

Moussa Sissoko was not sent off for his challenge - and subsequent stamp - on Daniel James
Image: Daniel James was on the receiving end of some heavy tackles

United's two summer signings settled into their new surrounding well.

Speed is crucial to Solskjaer's objectives, and Daniel James has it in abundance. The Welsh youngster came in for some heavy tackles but his attitude to keep getting up and his combative approach won plenty of admirers among his new employers and team-mates.

Aaron Wan Bissaka made his Man Utd debut following his summer move from Crystal Palace
Image: Aaron Wan-Bissaka made his United debut following his summer move from Crystal Palace

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has acclimatised well too, delighting fans with his robust, no-nonsense tackling. He's far quieter off the pitch, but seems determined to do his talking on it.

What next for Solskjaer?

Looking forward, Solskjaer wants another centre-back - even more so now after Eric Bailly picked up a knee injury - a winger and a central midfielder.

Contingency plans are in place should Lukaku and Pogba leave while, encouragingly, David de Gea looks to be on the brink of signing a new long-term deal to remain at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United have been in Singapore
Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United beat Spurs in the final game of their tour in Singapore

In taxing conditions, this has been a positive start to Solskjaer's first full season in charge with very few negatives. What won't have escaped Manchester United's attention, however, is that on this visit to Australia and the Far East although their fanbase remains loyal, other teams have started to pick up real followings too.

In essence, that's a powerful reminder that achieving success remains as fundamental as ever and represents the greatest challenge facing Manchester United's new era.

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