Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Raphael Varane has held Manchester United in his heart for the past 10 years as the defender prepares for a possible debut against Southampton.

The France international was presented to fans at Old Trafford ahead of the 5-1 win over Leeds United last week, having signed a four-year deal after Real Madrid accepted an initial fee of around £34million.

The 28-year-old was wanted by United when he was a rising star at Lens, but he chose to join Madrid in 2011, where he went on to win three LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among a host of honours.

Solskjaer says Varane has conducted himself impressively in training this week ahead of the game with Southampton at St Mary's Stadium on Sunday and believes Varane has fulfilled something of an ambition by joining the Red Devils.

"If you follow football the last 10 years, that's the reason we wanted to sign him, what he's done over his career," the United manager said on Friday.

"It's no secret we were close when he went to Real Madrid 10 years ago, Sir Alex [Ferguson] was there speaking to them.

"His performances on the pitch, his demeanor off the pitch tells me that's a Man United player. I think that's been in his heart ever since he went to Real Madrid, that he had a little bit of a feeling for Man United. The Champions League wins, the World Cup win, everything about him is class. He's quick, strong, good in the air, can play with both feet.

"He's been humble, inquisitive, he asks questions, he doesn't want to learn by a mistake in the game, he wants to learn it on the training field before he comes on the pitch. Everything about him has been impressive."

There is also a chance that Edinson Cavani could return to action this weekend, having missed the victory over Leeds after spending additional time away from Manchester for personal reasons.

"Edinson's joined in, Raphael's joined in, so we're getting fitter and fitter. We've had a very good week. Let's see who's making the flight down to Southampton on Saturday," Solskjaer said.

"Edinson's always looked after himself. He's lacking in team training but he's been looking after himself, you can see that. He had different reasons why he was late, there were some personal reasons, but his body can tolerate a lot so it [the break] was something that was required not physically but for a different matter. He's ready to go."

David de Gea is set to continue in goal as Dean Henderson continues his recovery from coronavirus, with the England goalkeeper not expected to return to action until after the international break.

Solskjaer confirmed the message from the club is for every player to be double-vaccinated against COVID-19, although some have not done so.

"The whole situation around COVID is still unknown and that's the scary bit," he said. "You hear people have it, less fit people than footballers, and no symptoms, and fit footballers [have it] and you get after-effects and side-effects, tiredness, so it's a scary virus. 

"With regards to Dean, he was tired after training and we needed to check him up. Now, he's much better, he's passed all the tests we've gone through with him and he's training, he's building himself up again because he lost a few weeks. He's not in full team training yet but it won't be too long.

"They're not all double-jabbed. I am and I encourage the lads to take the vaccination, but we can't force anyone to do that. To my understanding, we're wanting everyone to be double-jabbed and it's up to them."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted the "re-invented" Jesse Lingard is a part of his plans, while the Manchester United manager also hinted at a return for Dean Henderson.

Lingard enjoyed a productive loan spell with West Ham in the second half of last season, netting nine times in 16 Premier League appearances.

The 28-year-old's impressive showings for the Hammers secured an England call-up at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, though he narrowly missed out on Gareth Southgate's final Euro 2020 squad.

David Moyes is reportedly keen to bring Lingard back to London Stadium but Solskjaer outlined the midfielder's importance to his United squad, despite an incredible depth of talent in that area of the pitch at Old Trafford.

"Don’t forget Jesse Lingard who has re-invented himself and has come back the man that we know he is with the quality," Solskjaer said.

"He is going to play a big part as well.

"Of course there could be more rotation. We will be fresher. We will have to have a big and strong squad to be competitive in this league.

"It's the best league in the world and we also have to be lucky with injuries, but I am looking forward to working with all these players.

"We have to work hard and see who is fit and available. There will be a few fit and available definitely [against Southampton next Sunday]."

Lingard's nine goals for West Ham came from a total of 28 attempts, and he averaged a goal every 158 minutes.

In total, he played 1,424 minutes in the league for the Hammers, putting him behind only Bruno Fernandes (1,446) and Tomas Soucek (1,619) in terms of midfielders from each club from the point his loan started until the end of the season.

His four assists were second only to Fernandes, with his 18 chances created also more than any other West Ham or United midfielder bar the Portugal playmaker.

Lingard's willingness to run with the ball also provided a different dimension to West Ham's attack, and his 51 dribbles attempted was 20 more than second-ranked Pablo Fornals.

Solskjaer will have a welcome selection headache between the posts, too. David de Gea started in Saturday's win, with Henderson still recovering from COVID-19.

However, the United manager confirmed Henderson could come back into contention for the trip to St. Mary's Stadium as he returns to training on Monday.

“We will see how he feels and, hopefully, he can join in training on Monday," Solskjaer added.

"It is a big important test for him and we hope he is feeling better."

The pair shared goalkeeping duties last term, with De Gea appearing 26 times and Henderson granted 13 starts in the Premier League.

The Spain international saved 60 of the 280 shots he faced in the Premier League in 2020-21 for a save percentage of 65.22, compared to 76.47 for Henderson, who made 40 saves from 150 shots.

The England goalkeeper conceded 0.96 goals per 90 minutes across all competitions, while De Gea let in 1.25, though he did start double the games for Solskjaer's men.

Mason Greenwood is a man and no longer a boy, according to Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Bruno Fernandes fired a hat-trick in an emphatic 5-1 win over Leeds United at Old Trafford, while Paul Pogba illuminated his side's Premier League opener with four assists – more than the three he managed in the entirety of the 2020-21 top-flight campaign.

The landslide scoreline did not appear on the cards when Luke Ayling's piledriver brought Leeds level in the 48th minute, but soon afterwards Greenwood latched onto Pogba's majestic pass to hurl the floodgates open.

The 19-year-old forward missed England's Euro 2020 campaign through injury but was quickly up to speed on the opening weekend.

Although nominally playing as a centre forward, Greenwood only touched the ball in the Leeds box twice – one of these for his goal.

Instead, he caused persistent problems by dropping deep and disrupting the Leeds midfield, such as in the build-up to a first-half opportunity for Pogba when the game was goalless.

"I've got forwards who can play different positions. He scored a goal from the left-wing position, he's so effective from the right, he can still be a number nine and centre-forward but he drops in," said Solskjaer, who sent on Jadon Sancho for a second-half debut.

"He's a natural footballer and the way he's developed the past couple of seasons… the way he burst away on that second goal, that's a man compared to the boy who was in the first team two years ago.

"He's worked so hard in pre-season to get his fitness up and he's ready to go.

"I think you can see the forwards we've got into the team with Mason, Jadon, Marcus [Rashford], Anthony [Martial] and Dan [James], they can play different positions.

"Edinson [Cavani] is probably our only one who is fixed in one position. The rest of them we should leave them to enjoy developing in their careers.

"I remember Wayne [Rooney] Carlos [Tevez] and [Cristiano] Ronaldo playing together. Good players can always play together. We need movements and that's what we had today."

 

Greenwood's lead-restoring goal drew a particularly rapturous response from the Stretford End and Solskjaer explained the promise of playing in front of fans had persuaded veteran Uruguay striker Cavani to extend his Old Trafford stay.

"The last 18 months have been strange. The only interactions have been through the media," he said.

"You watch the games on tele, you haven't had that feeling of connection. To be reunited with the fans again, it’s important for the players.

"This is the real Man United, this is how I sold Man United to Edinson, for example. You can't leave after one season playing with no fans. Man United is fans and players and everyone together."

That answer had been in response to a query over whether Pogba was more likely to remain a United player in these circumstances after further speculation about his future.

"The short answer is, 'yes'," Solskjaer added.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is confident Anthony Martial can put last season's disappointment behind him and ease some of the goalscoring burden on Bruno Fernandes.

The 25-year-old finished as United's top scorer in 2019-20 but netted just seven goals in an injury-plagued 2020-21 campaign that saw him feature 36 times in all competitions.

Martial's goal tally was his lowest in a single season since joining United from Monaco in 2015, while the 29 chances created was also his lowest creative output to date.

He made 26 starts in total last season, which was curtailed in March by a knee issue, and attempted 66 shots with a conversion rate of 10.61 per cent.

That compares to a conversion rate of 28.33 for Edinson Cavani (from 60 attempts), 17.07 for Marcus Rashford (from 123) and 12 for Mason Greenwood (from 100) among United's other forwards.

Fernandes led the way with 28 goals last time out, albeit 13 of those came from the penalty spot, and Solskjaer accepts others – including Martial – must step up this campaign.

"As I've said before, we really rate Anthony," he said at a news conference ahead of Saturday's opening Premier League game of the season against Leeds United. 

"Last season was disappointing. He had injuries, he lost some form, but the season before he was our top scorer.

"If Anthony is taking all the penalties, or Rashford last season would have taken all the penalties, that's another 10-15 goals for a centre forward.

"But we've got Bruno who's so confident on pens that you can't take that away from him really.

"I'm very confident and I like what I see from Anthony when I see him in training now, and when I see him in the gym, he has that little bit of grit between his teeth again."

United have strengthened their attacking ranks on the back of finishing second in the Premier League last season with the high-profile addition of Jadon Sancho.

With Rashford recovering from shoulder surgery, Cavani being given an extended break and Sancho building up his fitness, Martial is expected to lead United's line against Leeds.

"I think with the forwards that we have, Anthony will score more goals than he did last season," Solskjaer added. 

"I think Mason will only develop. Edinson started late in the season and I think he'll score more goals. 

"Jadon will chip in with goals so I feel confident that the burden is not just on Bruno to score goals. An attacking midfielder shouldn't be the only one scoring 15-20 goals."

Jadon Sancho will be involved for Manchester United against Leeds United on Saturday but Raphael Varane is not available, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said.

England winger Sancho, a £73.9million (€85m) signing from Borussia Dortmund, has been training this week after struggling with illness following his holiday.

Red Devils manager Solskjaer confirmed Sancho is ready to make his competitive debut against Marcelo Bielsa's men at Old Trafford.

"Jadon is going to be involved," Solskjaer told reporters on Friday. "Unfortunately, he was ill after his holiday, so we lost out on a few days of training, but he's gelled really well with the group. He's going to be involved."

However, centre-back Varane will miss the game as his move from Real Madrid has yet to be finalised.

The France international has been isolating after arriving in England, as per coronavirus protocols, but there are some outstanding matters to resolve before he can be registered as a United player.

"He's not trained with us," Solskjaer said. "Things take time. Unfortunately, with the isolation, the delay, it's not 100 per cent done yet. I can't say he will be involved, I can probably say he won't be.

"It always happens, it's little things. The big hold-up was isolation, quarantine. It'll be done soon."

There have been questions over the involvement of Anthony Martial, who has been linked with a possible move away from United in the transfer window.

The France international missed the final two months of last season with a knee injury but played 45 minutes of the 4-0 friendly win over Everton.

Solskjaer insisted he has no plans to allow the forward to leave despite the reported interest from elsewhere.

"I wouldn't be surprised if other teams targeted Anthony because he's a very good player," he said. "I've got no plans whatsoever for him to play against us.

"He's come back strong, hungry, with a determination to prove his fitness and quality, because last season was a disappointing one for him. He's up for the challenge. He's a Man United player and we're happy to have him. He's proven doubters wrong so many times."

Solskjaer added that there is little update on the future of Paul Pogba, who is in the final year of his contract at United.

"It's been spoken and written about so often," he added. "Every discussion I've had with Paul was a positive one, he knows what we want and hopefully he keeps on in the background and they make decisions. It'll always be like with this with Paul; he's a media magnet."

Liverpool are the side that will provide reigning Premier League champions Manchester City with their sternest title test this season.

That is according to Mark Bosnich, who told Stats Perform he also expects Chelsea and his former club Manchester United to be in the running for top spot.

City won their third title in four seasons last time out, and a fifth in 10 years, as they finished 12 points clear of closest challengers United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have strengthened with the signing of Jadon Sancho and imminent arrival of Raphael Varane for reported combined fees of £115million.

City spent £100m to make Jack Grealish the most expensive player in British history, meanwhile, and Chelsea have re-signed Romelu Lukaku for just less.

That makes the £36m Liverpool paid to sign Ibrahima Konate seem modest by comparison, yet Bosnich believes the 2019-20 champions are capable of ousting City this term.

"The real dark horse, if you can really say that, is Liverpool," Bosnich told Stats Perform. "They've won it before, very recently. 

"And I really do think that the injury to Virgil van Dijk hurt them last season far more than anyone realised at the time.

"I think that out of three contenders, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, they are probably the best placed to really mount a serious challenge."

City, who still want to add Harry Kane to their ranks, won the title with three games to spare last season and have bolstered their attack with Grealish, offsetting the departure of club-record scorer Sergio Aguero and defender Eric Garcia, who were both used sparingly last season.

But while Bosnich considers Pep Guardiola's side as favourites before a ball is kicked, the former Australia international expects them to prioritise the Champions League after finishing as runners-up to Chelsea in 2020-21.

"For me and for a lot of people, understandably so after signing Grealish, they will definitely start as favourites, but I'm not so sure they'll win it," Bosnich said. "There's no doubt in their qualities – we saw what they achieved last season. 

"That was a phenomenal run. But if you think back, I think it was about up to about around November, they had a bit of a poor run and they changed things around and they went on a 15 or 16-game unbeaten spree. 

"But their main focus, and understandably so, is the Champions League. Guardiola hasn't won it since 2011 and City have never won it before.

"I think you have to say that it's their graduation of truly, from a football perspective, being in the big club of clubs.

"I really think the focus would go on that, and I'm not so sure that they will win it. They'll definitely start favourites, but I'm not sure that they will win it."

Bosnich's former United team-mate Solskjaer has yet to win any silverware in his two and a half seasons in charge of the club, losing four cup semi-finals in that time and falling just short in last season's Europa League final.

After finishing third and second in the last two campaigns, Bosnich feels it is time for Solskjaer to end United's nine-season wait for top-flight silverware or else he may be out of a job.

"Solskjaer, although I'll admit I'm biased, has for me done a really good job thus far," Bosnich said. "The only thing that's stopping me from saying 'an excellent job' is the fact that he hasn't won a trophy. 

"The Villarreal Europa League final, obviously losing on penalties was disappointing. But they now have Sancho and I think Raphael Varane will prove to be one of the signings of the season.

"People who have watched LaLiga over time, or France, will realise what an absolutely outstanding asset he is. 

"And I really do think that it gives Solskjaer so many options as well, because they could play three at the back with [Victor] Lindelof and [Harry] Maguire if they wanted to. He could go right-back if they really wanted him to. 

"I'd dearly love to see them sign one more like Harry Kane, but I don't think that will happen this summer. I still think that they've got to win the title in my opinion, for Ole's sake, within the next two seasons."

As for Chelsea's title prospects after winning the Champions League last season and the Super Cup this week, Bosnich cannot see Thomas Tuchel's men quite bridging the gap in the league just yet.

"Tuchel came in and did an absolutely outstanding job last season. But 19 points is too much for them to catch up," Bosnich said. "But they still probably have a better chance of doing it than a lot of teams. 

"With the signing of Lukaku, I think that's really important for them. He's an outstanding player, simple as that. I don't care what anyone says. And I've always held that close – he's an outstanding player. 

"I don't think they’ll be able to make up the 19-point gap, but I don't think they'll be far off."

Raphael Varane is expected to formally complete his transfer to Manchester United in the coming days as he waits to undergo a medical.

United reached an agreement to sign the centre-back from Real Madrid last month, with the deal reportedly worth £42.7million (€50m).

Varane, who was in action with France at Euro 2020, said farewell to his former Madrid team-mates at the end of July, but could not complete a medical until he had isolated upon his arrival in the United Kingdom, due to current COVID-19 travel restrictions.

With both Varane and fellow new arrival Jadon Sancho absent, United still cruised to a 4-0 rout of Everton in their final pre-season friendly before kicking off their Premier League campaign against Leeds United next week.

And Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed Varane's deal will be finalised as soon as the 28-year-old has completed his period in quarantine.

"With Raphael, the medical has to be done. He's isolating at the moment," Solskjaer told reporters after the win over Everton.

"He had to wait for visas, so unfortunately that took a few more days than expected but we've got to follow the protocols and the rules."

Solskjaer also revealed Sancho, who has been given an extended break after helping England to the Euro 2020 final, will report for training on Monday, so could be in contention to face Leeds.

"Jadon is in on Monday, hopefully in decent nick and he can be involved," Solskjaer added.

Mason Greenwood, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot were on target against Everton.

United's preparations for the game were hindered somewhat by a coronavirus outbreak within the squad, leading to the cancellation of a planned friendly against Preston North End last week.

Jesse Lingard has tested positive and is a doubt to face Leeds, while United are taking a cautious approach with Dean Henderson.

The goalkeeper has missed the entirety of United's pre-season after testing positive for COVID-19 following his return to training and though he no longer has the illness, Henderson is still suffering from the after-effects.

"Jesse feels okay, hopefully it'll stay that way," Solskjaer said. "But when you get a positive test you've just got to isolate even if you feel well.

"Dean was positive early on. He's negative in his testing but he has not felt as energised and sharp as he normally has done, so he still feels fatigued and is feeling the after-effects.

"You never know. You've seen so many effects of this virus, he's still got a few days to rest and then we'll check up on him."

Bruno Fernandes' sublime free-kick was the highlight of Manchester United's rout against Everton, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side rounded off their pre-season with a 4-0 victory.

Fernandes curled in a sensational effort from 25 yards out to put United three ahead in the 29th minute of Saturday's friendly at Old Trafford.

A large crowd was treated to a superb first-half display from United, albeit Rafael Benitez evidently has work to do heading into his first season as Everton boss.

Jordan Pickford, making his first appearance of pre-season after helping England to the Euro 2020 final, was partly at fault for United's eighth-minute opener – Lucas Digne's header catching Everton's goalkeeper cold, with Mason Greenwood on hand to pick up the scraps.

Pickford was beaten again seven minutes later, another returning England international Harry Maguire powering home a brilliant header home from Luke Shaw's corner. 

With Fernandes having compounded Everton's misery, Solskjaer was able to make plenty of changes in the second half as he prepares for a tough start to the Premier League campaign against Leeds United.

It was one of those substitutions – Diogo Dalot – who capped things off with the final action of the game, his header looping in over Asmir Begovic. 

Andros Townsend hit the crossbar and Demarai Gray missed a golden chance as Everton toiled before Dalot's header.

There was no United debut for Jadon Sancho, while Raphael Varane's move from Real Madrid is still being finalised. 

The Toffees face Southampton in ex-Liverpool manager Benitez's first competitive game in charge.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer understands the expectations at Old Trafford as well as anyone, and the Manchester United manager is leaning into them with the start of the season just over a week away. 

Now ready to move past a campaign that saw United finish a distant second to Manchester City in the league and fall to Villarreal in the Europa League final, Solskjaer is pleased with club's two key additions in the transfer window and optimistic about their chances this time around. 

With higher expectations comes more pressure, but after seeing his contract extended last month, Solskjaer is confident the club are on the right path. 

"You feel under pressure all the time," Solskjaer told ESPN. "At this club, with this responsibility, it's not just clinging onto your job; it's about the responsibility that's in my hands.

"We've got millions of fans, the players, the club, the staff... and the responsibility is on getting results. As long as you get results and improve, that's what I felt that we've improved all the time. As long as you can see improvement.

"We've gone from third to second [in the Premier League] and a lot closer in points, we've gone from three semi-finals to a final and one kick away from winning so it's about taking the next step now. That's the challenge."

Solskjaer said he expects United to enter the final month of the season in contention for their first league title since 2013 and hopefully deep into another cup run as well. 

After adding Jadon Sancho and agreeing a deal in principal for Raphael Varane, the manager believes United can move past Manchester City with "maximum effort, maximum season and maximum sacrifice" from everyone at Old Trafford. 

Even that would not guarantee a trophy, particularly given the level of competition. 

"For me, it feels like this season coming up is one of the strongest Premier League seasons," he said.

"Of course it's been City and Liverpool fighting it out for a few years. I feel us and Chelsea have spent well and worked well and we should look at ourselves as potential challengers, but it's potential.

"The first game is the most important, then the first block of games, and then keeping that momentum."

After a slow start to the last Premier League campaign, Solskjaer is counting on United getting out of the gate at a better pace, particularly once Sancho and Varane are integrated into the squad. 

While the high-profile newcomers will be the centre of attention early on, Solskjaer is pleased that the dressing room is full of players he believes are ready to handle the unique challenges of playing for United. 

"We want to be successful," he said. "We want to start winning trophies and we've laid the foundation, and I feel now that the foundation has been laid on the training ground, in the transfer market and with the work that the coaches and the staff that everyone has been doing with the players.

"I think we've made [the players] more robust and ready to face the challenges of a Man United player. That's not the same as playing in any other team and I think everyone that's been here or arrived here, they know the demands and expectations are higher."

Solskjaer singled out the addition of Edinson Cavani to the mix as a key factor in building that atmosphere, saying the Uruguayan has "shown the way for many" in his time with the club.

He also thought back to his own former team-mates like Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Gary Neville as players who embraced the situation.

"There are so many good players out there, but some of them don't handle the pressure," he said. "Some do. Some thrive under pressure, some enjoy it. ...

"You have to enjoy it -- if you don't enjoy being a Man United player, you can play somewhere mid-table."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's working relationship with the club he loves is set to carry on until at least 2024 after he signed an extension with Manchester United.

The deal, a pre-season boost as United prepare for a new campaign, came with a glowing endorsement from outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who talked up the "foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch" in the official statement released by the club.

There are obvious reasons to be so optimistic, too, considering the Red Devils finished runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and also reached the Europa League final.

However, as has become a worrying trend of late, they still came up short in the quest for silverware. Solskjaer's new deal, plus the signing of Jadon Sancho, shows a high degree of faith in the current regime, but also shortens the list of excuses if the near-misses continue.

Partnerships in football can sour swiftly if things do not pan out as hoped – the previous manager to occupy the home dugout at Old Trafford knows that only too well...

A sign of better times after life under Mourinho

Solskjaer has a win rate of 52.6 per cent in the Premier League since taking charge. His average of 1.86 points per game sits him third on the United list since the competition's inception, behind an undoubted club legend and a former boss who knows an extension is not always a guarantee of sticking around.

Jose Mourinho triumphed in exactly 50 of his 93 league games in charge. In contrast to the man who replaced him, the Portuguese had early success with United as well, winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.

Those seemingly solid foundations subsided quickly, though. He was handed an extension in January 2018 yet was gone inside a year, dismissed amid dissatisfaction with not just results on the pitch but also the style of play. A defeat to Liverpool at Anfield proved to be the final straw.

Mourinho fell seven games short of his Premier League century with the Red Devils, caught out by his entrenched views on how the team should be set up as he seemingly failed to grasp the club's traditions.

Solskjaer now has his hundred within sight, a number that seemed highly improbable when he flew in from Molde to answer United's SOS (Save Our Season) call. The trip to Wolves on August 29, United's third outing in 2021-22, following on from games against Leeds United and Southampton, will see him reach three figures in the Premier League. 

In doing so, he will become the first manager to make it to the milestone with United since Alex Ferguson. Matching his league success rate of 65.2 per cent may appear a tall order, but the team have been trending in the right direction after mixed times under the stewardship of more illustrious names.

United's 73 league goals they scored last term were the highest tallied in the post-Ferguson era, while 12 away wins in the top flight were also the most since the Scot stepped aside. All they need to do now is work out a way to get over the hump, whether that be at home or abroad.

Finding the balance in the quest for success

Upon his arrival in December 2018, Solskjaer cited the "very talented squad" at his disposal. That group which struggled for points in the dying embers of Mourinho's reign went unbeaten in his first 12 league games, a run that helped the caretaker stick around in the job for a while longer.

A Champions League away win over Paris Saint-Germain provided further ammunition to suggest the Norwegian should be retained on a permanent basis (he would receive a three-year deal). Marcus Rashford scored the winner from the penalty spot on that famous night in the French capital, one of his 52 goals under Solskjaer.

No player has managed more than the England international, who also tops the list for appearances (128). Mason Greenwood – another product of the academy system that remains so highly valued by both club officials and supporters – has 29 goals in 105 appearances.

There have been hugely successful signings, too, with Bruno Fernandes (40 goals in just 80 games) the pick of the bunch. Edinson Cavani, who scored 17 times in the 2020-21 season, proved an astute bit of business as well, a free transfer that paid off spectacularly as a much-needed focal point in the forward line.

Rashford, Greenwood, Fernandes and Cavani demonstrate the "good balance" within the squad that Solskjaer mentioned in the announcement of his new contract. Sancho joining from Borussia Dortmund only adds even greater depth to the attacking options, having returned to Manchester – albeit the other side of the divide – after dazzling during his time in the Bundesliga.

A centre-back, quite possibly Raphael Varane, would help bolster the back-line that gave up 44 league goals in the previous season, but Solskjaer has plenty to work with already.

He spoke both prior to the end of the league season and also in the aftermath of losing on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League showpiece about the need to strengthen the squad, calling for two or three high-profile signings.

Sancho is certainly one of those, while Varane would tick that box as well, so it seems the much-maligned owners board are set to grant him his wish.

United have shown faith in Solskjaer throughout and now he needs to repay them in the only way possible – by winning trophies.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's working relationship with the club he loves is set to carry on until at least 2024 after he signed an extension with Manchester United.

The deal, a pre-season boost as United prepare for a new campaign, came with a glowing endorsement from outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who talked up the "foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch" in the official statement released by the club.

There are obvious reasons to be so optimistic, too, considering the Red Devils finished runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and also reached the Europa League final.

However, as has become a worrying trend of late, they still came up short in the quest for silverware. Solskjaer's new deal, plus the signing of Jadon Sancho, shows a high degree of faith in the current regime, but also shortens the list of excuses if the near-misses continue.

Partnerships in football can sour swiftly if things do not pan out as hoped – the previous manager to occupy the home dugout at Old Trafford knows that only too well...

A sign of better times after life under Mourinho

Solskjaer has a win rate of 52.6 per cent in the Premier League since taking charge. His average of 1.86 points per game sits him third on the United list since the competition's inception, behind an undoubted club legend and a former boss who knows an extension is not always a guarantee of sticking around.

Jose Mourinho triumphed in exactly 50 of his 93 league games in charge. In contrast to the man who replaced him, the Portuguese had early success with United as well, winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.

Those seemingly solid foundations subsided quickly, though. He was handed an extension in January 2018 yet was gone inside a year, dismissed amid dissatisfaction with not just results on the pitch but also the style of play. A defeat to Liverpool at Anfield proved to be the final straw.

Mourinho fell seven games short of his Premier League century with the Red Devils, caught out by his entrenched views on how the team should be set up as he seemingly failed to grasp the club's traditions.

Solskjaer now has his hundred within sight, a number that seemed highly improbable when he flew in from Molde to answer United's SOS (Save Our Season) call. The trip to Wolves on August 29, United's third outing in 2021-22, following on from games against Leeds United and Southampton, will see him reach three figures in the Premier League. 

In doing so, he will become the first manager to make it to the milestone with United since Alex Ferguson. Matching his league success rate of 65.2 per cent may appear a tall order, but the team have been trending in the right direction after mixed times under the stewardship of more illustrious names.

United's 73 league goals they scored last term were the highest tallied in the post-Ferguson era, while 12 away wins in the top flight were also the most since the Scot stepped aside. All they need to do now is work out a way to get over the hump, whether that be at home or abroad.

Finding the balance in the quest for success

Upon his arrival in December 2018, Solskjaer cited the "very talented squad" at his disposal. That group which struggled for points in the dying embers of Mourinho's reign went unbeaten in his first 12 league games, a run that helped the caretaker stick around in the job for a while longer.

A Champions League away win over Paris Saint-Germain provided further ammunition to suggest the Norwegian should be retained on a permanent basis (he would receive a three-year deal). Marcus Rashford scored the winner from the penalty spot on that famous night in the French capital, one of his 52 goals under Solskjaer.

No player has managed more than the England international, who also tops the list for appearances (128). Mason Greenwood – another product of the academy system that remains so highly valued by both club officials and supporters – has 29 goals in 105 appearances.

There have been hugely successful signings, too, with Bruno Fernandes (40 goals in just 80 games) the pick of the bunch. Edinson Cavani, who scored 17 times in the 2020-21 season, proved an astute bit of business as well, a free transfer that paid off spectacularly as a much-needed focal point in the forward line.

Rashford, Greenwood, Fernandes and Cavani demonstrate the "good balance" within the squad that Solskjaer mentioned in the announcement of his new contract. Sancho joining from Borussia Dortmund only adds even greater depth to the attacking options, having returned to Manchester – albeit the other side of the divide – after dazzling during his time in the Bundesliga.

A centre-back, quite possibly Raphael Varane, would help bolster the back-line that gave up 44 league goals in the previous season, but Solskjaer has plenty to work with already.

He spoke both prior to the end of the league season and also in the aftermath of losing on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League showpiece about the need to strengthen the squad, calling for two or three high-profile signings.

Sancho is certainly one of those, while Varane would tick that box as well, so it seems the much-maligned owners board are set to grant him his wish.

United have shown faith in Solskjaer throughout and now he needs to repay them in the only way possible – by winning trophies.

Paul Pogba remains in talks with Manchester United over a new contract and is looking forward to the coming campaign getting under way, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The France international's future has once again been called into question amid reports he has reached a stalemate in discussions over a deal to stay at Old Trafford.

Pogba is due to become a free agent in a little under a year's time and is now rumoured to be a €50million (£43m) target for Paris Saint-Germain.

However, Solskjaer remains confident the 28-year-old – who has spent five seasons with United in his second spell with the club – will remain in place beyond this window.

"Talks are ongoing between Paul's representative and the club representatives," Solskjaer said. "All the dialogue I've had with Paul is that he's looking forward to the season.

"There's always speculation about Paul, the talks between Paul and his representatives. I'm not in the detail of every single one. I've got nothing to say about that really.

"Paul knows what we feel about it and I've enjoyed my time working with him and hopefully we can continue working together."

Pogba has yet to link up with United for pre-season training, having being given an extended break after playing four times for France at Euro 2020.

The ex-Juventus midfielder scored one goal and assisted another for France at the tournament, while his eight chances created were second only to Antoine Griezmann (10) among Les Bleus players.

Speaking after United's 4-2 friendly defeat to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, Solskjaer suggested Pogba could link up with his United team-mates in the next couple of days. 

"Many will join in training on Monday so they've got a few weeks to catch up," he told MUTV of United's players involved at the Euros and Copa America. 

"That's unfortunately the way it is; every year where there is a tournament, we have to catch up. Hopefully, they've done the work we've told them to do when they're away."

New signing Jadon Sancho and fellow England internationals Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire, who reached the Euro 2020 final, along with Copa America finalist Fred will "return in about 10 days' time", however.

Solskjaer had already confirmed ahead of United's defeat at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium that full-back Alex Telles will miss "a few weeks" with an ankle injury sustained in training.

United's next pre-season friendly is against Brentford at Old Trafford on Wednesday, followed by games with Preston North End and Everton before their Premier League opener at home to Leeds United on August 14.

Manchester United certainly can't be accused of standing still this year. A day after sealing the signing of Jadon Sancho, they confirmed a new contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until at least 2024.

But there's still plenty to press on with for Solskjaer and United. While the signing of Sancho addresses one area that has been a problem in recent years, it appears there are still two glaring weaknesses in the first-choice starting XI.

It would seem United have identified the man to take care of one of them, with Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane reportedly set to bolster their defensive options. In one sense it will have been a signing long in the making, given the club were supposedly close to buying him from Lens as a teenager only for Los Blancos to get the deal over the line in the end.

Although it took Varane a little time to truly establish himself at the Santiago Bernabeu, he's gone on to enjoy a hugely successful time in the Spanish capital, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns, among a host of other trophies.

Below, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to see how Varane might improve United and where else they could do with reinforcements.

 

Physical dominance is the key

There are some obvious strengths that Varane would bring to United at the back – chief among them is his pace, which they arguably don't have a great deal of at centre-back.

While Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire may not be considered painfully slow, neither boasts the same kind of speed as the Frenchman and that would undoubtedly be a considerable asset for United.

Recent reports have suggested Solskjaer wants to play more attack-minded football in 2021-22, and having a faster centre-back could be crucial in that sense.

In theory, it would allow United to play slightly higher up the pitch. While they didn't exactly defend deep in 2020-21, their average starting position of 42.3 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams – Varane's pace could potentially provide them with a little more security in a high line.

In terms of possession, there's not a great deal separating Varane and Lindelof, the man whose position is surely in doubt. The Sweden international averaged fractionally more successful passes (58.1 to 55.9) and accurate passes in the opposing half (17.81 to 17.77) per 90 minutes last season, but that could be a reflection of slightly differing styles of play implemented by the teams rather than ability.

Opta sequence data suggests they are similar as well. While Lindelof (14) may have been involved in four more goal-ending passing sequences, the expected goals (xG) value attached to Varane in those instances is actually higher (8.9 to 8.8), meaning the current United man's influence is likely being exaggerated by particularly good finishing from his team-mates.

Even their ball carrying tendencies aren't hugely different, though Lindelof does boast a greater average carry distance of 11.3m to 10.9m, while his average progress up the pitch of 5.7m is a minor improvement on the 5.4m posted by the Madrid man.

But it could be argued United don't need their right-sided centre-back to be forward-thinking all the time because that's one of Maguire's key strengths. If anything, having a dependable partner could allow for their captain to have even greater prominence going forward, as he may feel more relaxed about stepping up with better protection behind.

 

And that's where Varane could really shine as an upgrade on Lindelof. The Swede's effectiveness in physical duels has been routinely questioned since he joined from Benfica in 2017 – a prime example being when Mbaye Diagne bullied him as West Brom scored in their 1-1 draw with United in February.

While it's impossible to guarantee Varane wouldn't have also been dominated in that instance, he does have a better record in situations where physicality is important. In 2020-21, he won 2.4 aerial duels per game across all competitions compared to Lindelof's 1.8.

That equates to a 72.3 per cent success rate for Varane, as opposed to 59.4 for Lindelof. In fact, Maguire – the most dominant defender in that respect in the Premier League last season (100 duels or more) – only marginally edges the World Cup winner (72.9 per cent).

But when we broaden the comparison to encompass all duels, Varane comes out on top among all three of them (66.5 per cent). Maguire wins 63.8 per cent of those contests, whereas that drops to 53.1 per cent for Lindelof.

United fans have been crying out for a more physically dominant defender to partner Maguire, and in Varane they may have identified a centre-back to rival him in those stakes.

Is the Fred-McTominay axis necessary?

Centre-back certainly isn't the only area United fans would be eager to see an upgrade – there's little doubt they have room for growth in midfield, regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba leaves.

The Frenchman actually featured more from the left during the second half of 2020-21 and looked more comfortable out there with some creative freedom, rather than sitting behind Bruno Fernandes in the middle.

That meant Fred and Scott McTominay were, more often than not, the first-choice pairing at the base of the midfield.

Now, it must be said that both players have clearly improved significantly over the past couple of years and they do offer a lot to United in certain areas.

 

For instance, in the Premier League in 2020-21, Fred won possession more often than any other United player (228) and his 81 tackle attempts were only bettered by Aaron Wan-Bissaka (88). McTominay ranked fourth for tackles (51) and joint-second for fouls won (42), which speaks to his improved ability on the ball as well as a knack for relieving defensive pressure in transition.

But neither are particularly creative. Fred laid on 25 key passes with an expected assists (xA) value of 2.1, while McTominay created 17 chances that combined to an xA total of 0.7.

Of course, you can't expect every outfield player to offer creativity. In many cases a player's productivity – or lack of – is intrinsically linked to the role they're playing or system they're part of, and Fernandes has done a lot of the heavy lifting. But United are a side who generally have more of the ball than their opponents – do they need two 'destroyers'?

 

If Solskjaer is to implement a more forward-thinking setup in 2021-22, he would be wise to finally ditch the Fred-McTominay axis. More often than not, it comes across as extremely conservative.

 

But the caveat to that is Solskjaer's rather limited options. Donny van de Beek endured a pretty dreadful first season as he showed very little authority whenever he played, Pogba was more useful towards the left so his lack of work rate off the ball wasn't exposed, and Nemanja Matic just isn't athletic enough anymore even if he is still a talented ball-player.

Pressure now on Ole

Who's to say if another midfielder, Varane and Sancho will be enough to overthrow Manchester City while also holding off a Liverpool side who promise to be back with a vengeance and defending European champions Chelsea.

But such decisive addressing of the team's weak points should at least give Solskjaer the right tools to work with. It'll then be on him to prove conclusively he's the right man for the job, because further under-achieving with such a strong squad won't be tolerated for long, regardless of his new contract.

Jose Mourinho was sacked less than a year after signing his renewal in January 2018.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed a new three-year contract, the Premier League club announced on Saturday.

Solskjaer's United finished as runners-up to Manchester City in the 2020-21 Premier League season and reached the final of the Europa League, losing 11-10 on penalties to Villarreal.

United confirmed the Norwegian's new deal contained an option for a further year.

Solskjaer said: "Everyone knows the feeling I have for this club, and I am delighted to have signed this new contract. It is an exciting time for Manchester United, we have built a squad with a good balance of youth and experienced players that are hungry for success.

"I have a fantastic coaching team around me, and we are all ready to take that next step on our journey. Manchester United wants to be winning the biggest and best trophies and that's what we are all striving for. We have improved, both on and off the pitch, and that will continue over the coming seasons.

"I can't wait to get out in front of a packed Old Trafford and get this campaign started."

Former United striker Solskjaer took over from Jose Mourinho on a caretaker basis in December 2018, after the Portuguese boss was sacked, and was handed the job on a permanent basis three months later.

He committed to a three-year deal at the time and has now signed up to stay at Old Trafford.

There is change afoot at the club, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward due to leave at the end of the year.

Woodward said Solskjaer had justified the club showing their faith in him with the extension.

"Ole and his staff have worked tirelessly putting the foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch," Woodward said.

"The results of that have become increasingly visible over the past two seasons and we are all looking forward to seeing this exciting team develop further in the years ahead.

"What is especially pleasing is the way this progress has been achieved with a blend of young, homegrown talent and top-class recruits, playing attacking football in the best traditions of Manchester United. We are more confident than ever that, under Ole's leadership, we are heading in the right direction."

Solskjaer has yet to win a trophy as boss of the Red Devils, or reach a major domestic cup final.

However, United have finished third and second in the league in his first two full seasons at the helm, guaranteeing lucrative Champions League income.

They finished five points ahead of third-placed Liverpool last term, losing just six of 38 domestic league games, albeit that was not enough to be competitive with City, who took the title by 12 points.

Their 2020-21 win percentage of 55.3 in the Premier League was the second highest United have achieved in a season since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013, beaten only by the 65.8 per cent they managed under Mourinho when finishing second in the 2017-18 campaign.

The 73 league goals they scored was the highest United have tallied in the post-Ferguson era, with the team's 12 away wins in the top flight also the most they have mustered since the long-serving Scot stepped aside.

In fact, United have not lost away from Old Trafford in the Premier League since going down 2-0 to Liverpool in January 2020 – that is a run of 26 matches.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed a new three-year contract, the Premier League club announced on Saturday.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.