De Futebol

The Guardians Jamie Jackson wrote this little diddy about the upcoming Man U season. “1) What does Romelu Lukaku’s arrival mean for Marcus Rashford?

For £75m (plus £15m add-ons) José Mourinho acquires a proven prolific Premier League goal scorer in the Belgian and throws the gauntlet down to Manchester United’s home-grown starlet: can the 19-year-old Marcus Rashford continue his upward trajectory despite Lukaku starting as the first choice No9? Rashford has played most of his 71 senior appearances as a wide forward yet his natural position is in central attack. There may be a clue here regarding how he can prosper. When coming through the Old Trafford youth ranks Rashford often operated as an impressive No10. Mourinho wants pace and power (Rashford can add muscle to a still developing frame) in the role, so during pre-season may take a look at him as the man to potentially play behind Lukaku.

2) How solid is the Mourinho-Woodward relationship?

For the time being Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, can relax after his smart manoeuvring allowed United to gazump Chelsea for Lukaku’s signature. Mourinho had been unhappy at the number of new arrivals since he offered an “over to you now, Ed” challenge after the Europa League final triumph. The central defender Victor Lindelof, a £31m purchase from Benfica, was confirmed in June and then all went quiet, which caused the manager serious disquiet. This had Mourinho starting last week in a quasi‑dudgeon and concerned that fans would wonder why proposed transfers for Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata and Nemanja Matic were still not happening. Cue Woodward pulling his slick Lukaku move and so, for the moment at least, all is well between Woodward and Mourinho.

3) Who else will Mourinho hope to add while in the US?

A holding midfielder, a high-grade attacking forward and (possibly) a full‑back remain on Mourinho’s shopping list – in this order. Given how United outfoxed Chelsea for Lukaku, the west London club are resistant to allowing Matic to be sold to United and so strengthen Mourinho’s squad. Another school of thought is that Matic has never been the 54-year-old’s first choice, anyway. All of which means Mourinho has revived interest in Tottenham Hotspur’s Eric Dier. The manager fielded no regular No10 last term, switching between Wayne Rooney, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard. Beyond Rashford, he could look at Real’s James Rodríguez, who has previously been played down as a target but, as Lukaku and now Dier show, things change in football.

4) What constitutes a successful pre-season to tour?

The simple answer is to get through it with zero injuries, integrate Lukaku and Lindelof, acquire one or more new addition, and have confidence-boosting football under the collective belt when the plane touches down at Manchester Airport on 27 July. Mourinho is also intent that his squad will be supremely fit, if the intense itinerary is any marker. After a near week-long training camp at Berkley’s UCLA, United kick-off a breathless five-game, 11-day schedule by playing Los Angeles Galaxy on 15 July at LA’s StubHub Center. Then, they face Real Salt Lake City at Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium (17 July), Manchester City at Houston’s NRG Stadium (20 July), Real Madrid at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium (23 July) and Barcelona at Washington D.C.’s FedEx Field (26 July). United’s long limber up concludes with two more friendlies – against Valerenga (30 July, Oslo) and Sampdoria (2 August, Dublin) – before proceedings begin in earnest with a Uefa Super Cup showdown against Real Madrid in Skopje on 8 August.

5) After pre-season, what must Mourinho deliver in the 2017-18 campaign?

The Premier League title or go mightily close to doing so, is the only answer. The Portuguese’s squad boasts five of his own recruits – Lindelof, Lukaku, Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly – all of whom have (in theory) their best years to come. Zlatan Ibrahimovich was a sixth but he has now left. Yet into the hole left by the 27-goal man steps Lukaku, whose 85 Premier League strikes in the past five seasons is second only to Sergio Agüero’s 99. If Mourinho further strengthens with a central midfielder and a forward he will take his spend to more than £300m – it stands at £251m – and so he would be left with scant excuse for failure. It all starts in anger with West Ham United’s visit on 13 August for the Premier League opener.”