Manchester United enjoyed a largely successful first season under Erik ten Hag, finishing third in the Premier League and ending a five-year-long trophy drought, but a strong second season is equally as important.
The Dutchman arrived at Old Trafford with the club in complete crisis. His players were a blend of completely devoid of confidence and not really good enough to meet his demands, the Glazers continued to make the job nigh-on impossible, and he had to deal with a wantaway Cristiano Ronaldo not getting his way.
Add all that to the usual pressure of taking arguably football’s most high-profile manager’s job, and yeah, it’s a lot.
But Ten Hag weathered the storm brilliantly, overcoming a nightmare start to the season to finish with the Red Devils looking like a club finally making progress for the first time in years.
They’ve got to keep on moving forward, though, which starts with a strong pre-season. Here are seven United players who should be particularly concerned with impressing the boss in the coming weeks.
After two seasons in Manchester, the jury is still out on Sancho, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund with a £73million fee attached to his name alongside an insufferably long transfer saga.
His first season coincided with United’s worst in the Premier League era, but his second should’ve been much better – and it wasn’t.
Instead, Ten Hag sent Sancho away on a mid-season training program in a bid to finally get him firing. He came back and only managed to look marginally better.
The winger needs a strong pre-season campaign, or else he could be starting the season as a substitute and worse, could perhaps find himself on the chopping block before he knows it.
It’s quickly becoming now or never.
Sancho x Wan-Bissaka
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A name that will be familiar to United fans, Kovar has been around the club for a while, but has never managed to break firmly into the first team.
The Czech goalkeeper signed in 2018 and enjoyed a strong spell in the youth ranks, before embarking on loans to Swindon Town, Burton Albion and most recently Sparta Prague.
It was at Sparta where he made headlines, though, joining at the beginning of the 2022-23 season.
Kovar became first choice at the club and won the Czech top flight’s goalkeeper of the season award, helping Sparta to their first championship since 2014 and keeping 10 clean sheets.
With the goalkeeper situation at United looking up in the air, pre-season is as good an opportunity 23-year-old will get to stake his claim for the club.
Considering his comeback in the second half of the season, including Wan-Bissaka feels a little strange, but hear us out.
This time last season, it felt like he had one foot out of the door at United. Fast forward a year, and Wan-Bissaka is firmly challenging Diogo Dalot for the right-back position.
Dalot feels like Ten Hag’s preference, but it’s incredibly close between the pair and a positive pre-season for the Englishman could be the difference.
United have other areas to try and bolster with signings, thus it’s a straight shootout between the two at right-back. Wan-Bissaka should fancy his chances.
Off the back of a seriously successful loan spell in the Championship with Sunderland, scoring 14 goals and assisting a further four, Amad is bound to be of interest to Ten Hag.
Another loan wouldn’t hurt him at all, be it back to the Championship or this time to the Premier League, but his pre-season performances will likely decide what next season looks like for the Ivorian.
With Sancho still flattering to deceive, there’s definitely a position open on the flank. Facundo Pellistri has been fine, but probably needs another loan, while Amad now has a full season of senior English football under his belt. Now it’s time to impress the boss.
Zidane Iqbal was swiftly sold to Utrecht to the surprise of quite a few United fans, but fate looks to be different for Mainoo, who has quietly been admired by Ten Hag during his debut season at United.
The 18-year-old from Stockport was given a full debut in the form of a start at home to Charlton in the League Cup, and perhaps would’ve appeared more towards the end of the season if not for injuries.
Should Mainoo be fit, he’ll likely play a big part in Ten Hag’s pre-season, with the Dutchman very clearly high on the teenager’s profile and potential.
Donny van de Beek
Many believe the ship has sailed for Van de Beek at United, but it’s not over until it’s over.
Just as he had started to work his way into Ten Hag’s plans last season, a freak knee injury brought his campaign to an end. Had he have not been injured, he likely would’ve played a lot of football with United fighting on so many fronts.
He’s been in limbo for a while now at the club, but there is certainly a player in there. Pre-season could be the last chance for him to force his way into the plans, or at least play himself into the shop window.
Off the back of a brilliant breakthrough season which has seen Garnacho grab every opportunity with both hands, it feels strange to include him in a list like this.
But rewind 12 months, and this season could’ve looked entirely different for the teenage Argentina international. Many tipped him to enjoy a strong pre-season when Ten Hag first took over, but he barely featured after failing to adhere to the Dutchman’s newly imposed rules around the club.
Garnacho learned a tough lesson and benefitted from it, but needs to use the forthcoming pre-season to prove he’s more than just a flash in the pan and cement his spot in the side.
There’s bags of potential there, but he should know more than anyone that it could all be over in an instant if he doesn’t knuckle down.