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Can Man Utd bridge gap to Man City after encouraging summer in transfer window? – Sky Sports

Progress in football is by no means linear. The last time Manchester United finished second in the Premier League in 2017/18, they followed up Jose Mourinho’s ‘progress’ by dropping four places and 15 points.

The feeling this summer is in stark contrast to 2018. Mourinho brought in Fred (£53m) and Diogo Dalot (£19m) early in the summer window, but wasn’t shy in criticising the board for a lack of spending thereafter. The season started on a sour note, and Mourinho never really recovered, replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in December.

For what feels like the first time in half a decade, United look to have got their targets with plenty of time to spare. Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane were signed relatively early, and Edinson Cavani committed to another year before last season was out. The powers that be at Old Trafford seem to be aligned on what the club needed to progress, and Solskjaer is a satisfied man.

The Essential Football Podcast: 21/22 PL season previewPremier League kits for 2021/22Stream the biggest moments on NOW for just £25 p/mGet Sky SportsManchester United fixtures | Transfer rumours”Every manager would be happy the sooner and earlier the deals are done and this year we’ve managed to get it sorted,” he said after the 2-2 friendly draw against Brentford at Old Trafford in late July.

Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Man Utd are in a “good place” after “scrambling” late in recent window “I think the two we’ve got in will make a huge difference for us, both this season short-term but also long-term. We’ve scrambled before towards the end of the window and now I think, I have to say, we’re in a good position.”

For all the talk of Sancho – the Borussia Dortmund forward signed after a long-running saga and will bolster United’s front line – a world class defender to sit alongside Harry Maguire was perhaps needed most.

Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly have shown over spurts that they are adequate, maybe even good, top-four centre-backs. But good isn’t good enough for a United side who want proper, sustained challenges for titles over an entire season, not for a fortnight in January.

They may have finished second in the table, but the 44 goals they conceded last term placed their defence in fifth. They conceded only two fewer than Brighton in 16th, they faced 428 shots, the same as Southampton and relegated Fulham, and had the joint-second highest errors leading to shots.

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We take a look at some of Raphael Varane’s best bits whilst on international duty with France Ultimately, United must shave off at least half a dozen goals. Only two Premier League champions this century have conceded over 40 goals – United themselves in 1999/2000 and in 2012/13. The last four champions have conceded on average 29 goals.

Varane should help. In his peak years at 28, he has been described as a Rolls-Royce defender.

“Man Utd are buying one of the best central defenders in Europe,” former Man Utd forward and La Liga expert Terry Gibson told Sky Sports News.

“He has been fantastic at Real since day one, he has all the attributes you need and he has been slightly overlooked because of Sergio Ramos. But in terms of quality, I do not think there are many better than Varane.”

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Gary Neville believes the arrival of Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane at Manchester United is massive for the club His aerial strength will be crucial – United conceded 11 headed goals last season and nine from corners, the third-highest in both areas in the Premier League – and Solskjaer has also hinted at how Varane’s arrival offers United a different way of playing.

That could mean a higher line, with the added back-up of Varane’s strength in transition without the ball. Only dauntless Leeds allowed more high turnovers (321) and shots from high turnovers (55) last season.

At the other end, the likes of Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford will salivate at the prospect of Sancho’s creativity from wide alongside Bruno Fernandes from more central areas, while it will be interesting to see if Solskjaer persists with the two defensive-minded central midfielders in Scott McTominay and Fred if he feels Varane offers more solidity.

Then there’s Paul Pogba. The Frenchman enters his sixth season back at Old Trafford still looking for true consistency in a United shirt. He has a good relationship with Solskjaer, but will the manager give Pogba minutes while his long-term future is so uncertain?

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Watch a collection of Jadon Sancho’s best bits in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund. And though the defence looks settled, the No 1 spot is anything but. In early spring it looked as though Dean Henderson was United’s long-term goalkeeper, but a series of errors opened the door for David de Gea. The Spaniard got the nod for the Europa League final, where he failed to save any of Villarreal’s 11 penalties, and now the talk is that Henderson will return to the front of the queue.

Given the weight of attention placed on goalkeepers, not least at Old Trafford, Solskjaer and United could do without an internal saga playing out through the season.

Despite the bitterly disappointing Europa League final defeat, the three-year contract handed to Solskjaer last month suggests the Norwegian’s project has buy-in from the club, and the mood at present is optimistic.

Image: Who will be Man Utd’s No 1 this season? But United won’t be the only side with their glass half full. Thomas Tuchel starts his first full season with Chelsea buoyant after their Champions League success, while Liverpool look to have Virgil van Dijk back as they seek to make up for last season. Jurgen Klopp’s side may have finished on a high, redeeming fourth spot, but there are still plenty of wrongs to right.

And neighbours Manchester City, of course, are the team to beat.

A trophy last season would have been a tangible mark of progress – United are now without silverware in four years, their longest stretch since 1990 – but the calm manner in which they’ve handled this summer is a sign of growth off the pitch.

The Essential Football Podcast: 21/22 Premier League season preview The Premier League is back! New signings, new teams, old rivalries resumed and fresh hope, all to the sweet sound of full stadiums. Kate Burlaga is joined by Nick Wright and Gerard Brand to preview another nine months of drama in the top flight.

PART 1: Are City still the side to beat? And who will challenge them? Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool assessed

PART 2: Will the north London gloom lift? Leicester in focus and surprise package: Leeds, Aston Villa and Everton tipped

PART 3: How will promoted trio Brentford, Watford and Norwich fare? Plus: New managers assessed, and can West Ham deal with European distraction?

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Man Utd’s summer transfersIn

Tom Heaton – Aston Villa, free

Jadon Sancho – Borussia Dortmund, £73m

Out

Tahith Chong -Birmingham, loan

Joel Pereira – contract expired

Sergio Romero – contract expired

Nathan Bishop – Mansfield, loan

Reece Devine – St Johnstone, loan

Max Taylor – Rochdale, free

Yoshinori Muto – contract terminated

Axel Tuanzebe – Aston Villa, loan

Man Utd’s opening fixturesAugust

14: Leeds (h) – 12.30pm

22: Southampton (a) – 2pm, live on Sky Sports

29: Wolves (a) – 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports

September

11: Newcastle (h) – 3pm

19: West Ham (a) – 2pm, live on Sky Sports

25: Aston Villa (h) – 3pm

October

2: Everton (h) – 12.30pm

Follow the Premier League with Sky Sports128 exclusively live Premier League matches.First pick of matches for every weekend of the Premier League season.The best punditry team in football including Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, Jamie Redknapp, Graeme Souness, Micah Richards and Roy KeaneKelly Cates in the presenter’s chair for Saturday Night Football and Friday Night Football. While David Jones fronts Super Sunday and Monday Night Football.In-game goals and clips for mobile devices from Sky Sports live matches.Extended highlights On Demand through Game of the Day and Match Choice.Sky Sports is your ultimate destination for domestic football with live coverage of the Premier League, EFL, Scottish Premiership and the recent addition of the FA Women’s Super League.Find out more about Sky SportsFollow the summer transfer window with Sky SportsYou can follow all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms, as well as keeping track of all the developments on Sky Sports News.

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