Man United preseason tour winners and losers: Martial shines for Ten Hag

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PERTH, Australia — Manchester United‘s players and staff landed back at Manchester Airport on Sunday after nearly three weeks away in Thailand and Australia to begin the final run-up to the start of the Premier League season.

Erik ten Hag has two weeks to make any final decisions before picking his team to play Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Aug. 7. That fortnight includes two more friendlies, against Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano, but the bulk of the work has already been done in Bangkok, Melbourne and Perth.

The Dutchman has run the rule over more than 30 players, while new signings Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen are set to join the group this week. The tour has been positive for some members of the squad, but others will arrive back in Manchester with doubts about their roles ahead of the new campaign.

Here’s a look at the winners and losers from the trip and what Ten Hag’s new-look team might look like.

2022-23 preseason: United to clock up over 20,000 miles
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WINNERS

Martial began this summer unsure of his own future but after three weeks in Thailand and Australia, the Frenchman has made a strong case to start against Brighton in two weeks’ time. He benefitted from Cristiano Ronaldo‘s absence and started all four games as the central striker in Ten Hag’s system, scoring three goals against Liverpool, Melbourne Victory and Crystal Palace. The coaching staff have also been impressed with the way he’s taken on information, such as when to press and the direction of his runs. Martial has made such an impact that Ten Hag has now ruled out letting him leave before the deadline, regardless of what happens with Ronaldo.

After a difficult first season at Old Trafford, Sancho used the tour to cement his place in Ten Hag’s first-choice XI. Playing on the right of the front three, he scored three times including an athletic volley in the final game against Aston Villa. More importantly, his growing understanding with Martial and Marcus Rashford was evident with a flowing team goal against Palace, which cut the defence to pieces with incisive passing and clever movement. Ten Hag still has time to decide who should start the opener against Brighton but, barring a late injury, Sancho is all but guaranteed to be in the team.

Dalot has been at Old Trafford since 2018 but, speaking after the last tour game against Villa, he said it’s only now he feels like a United player. It’s not hard to see why. A year after arriving from Porto, he saw the club splash out £50 million on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and eventually spent time on loan at AC Milan. He’s yet to have a long run in the team, but that looks set to change this season. Ten Hag has brought in Tyrell Malacia to add competition at left-back but on the right it’s been a straight fight between Dalot and Wan-Bissaka and, so far, there’s only been one winner. The 23-year-old still has work to do on his defending but he impressed going forward on the tour. A cross with his left foot to set up Martial against Palace was the highlight.


LOSERS

Varane insisted during the trip that he doesn’t regret his decision to leave Real Madrid for United 12 months ago but, flying back to Manchester from Perth on Saturday night, he will realise he faces a battle to get into Ten Hag’s team. The United boss has spent nearly £50m on Martinez and he told ESPN while on tour that he is backing Harry Maguire to be a regular starter, leaving little doubt that Varane is set to start the season on the bench. It didn’t help that the France international struggled with injury — something that was also the case last season — to miss out on valuable minutes. Varane has won the Champions League four times and the World Cup and will back himself to displace Maguire eventually but, for now at least, he faces an uphill task.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

There have long been question marks about whether Wan-Bissaka is good enough to play for United, and judging by the tour Ten Hag has already made up his mind. The 24-year-old played just 92 minutes across the four games and when Ten Hag made 10 changes against Melbourne Victory, he was left on the bench and youngster Ethan Laird got the nod instead. Wan-Bissaka is better defensively than Dalot but Ten Hag wants his team to be proactive and aggressive and in that sense Dalot is a far better bet. Wan-Bissaka employed a specialist coach over the summer to help him with his passing and crossing but he still doesn’t offer enough going forward to warrant a place in the team.

With two weeks to go before the start of the new season, Alex Telles will surely know that his time at the club is almost up. He was already competing with Luke Shaw at left-back and this summer the Brazilian has seen Malacia arrive from Feyenoord. Shaw and Malacia shared duties at left-back during the tour, leaving Telles to fill in at centre-back and in midfield. By the end he literally appeared to be making up the numbers. Telles still has two years left on his contract, plus an option of another season, so he’s entitled to stay where he is for the time being, but there is not much prospect of him playing next season — or even being second choice behind Shaw.

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