Man United preseason: Fred shows promise but Jose Mourinho has creativity woe
MUNICH, Germany -- Manchester United ended their preseason campaign with defeat to Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena on Sunday.
There have been some positives -- beating AC Milan in Los Angeles and Real Madrid in Miami -- but the result against the Bundesliga champions capped off what has been a trying summer.
With the close of the transfer window looming and key players still missing after the World Cup, it is difficult to judge how the season might go.
Manager Jose Mourinho has painted a dismal picture -- especially if he does not get any new faces before Thursday's deadline.
Here, ESPN FC look at the things we learned from United's summer and how the new campaign might go.
You can see why Mourinho wants another defender
On the surface, United are well-stocked at centre-back with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo but throughout the summer, Mourinho's team have looked suspect at the back. Bailly, out of favour at the end of last season, has looked good in spells and Mourinho trusted Smalling to play nearly 50 games last season. However, it has not stopped the United manager from pursuing a central defender for the third summer in a row. Sources have told ESPN FC United are involved in talks for Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld and Jerome Boateng and Mourinho is hopeful he will get one before the start of the season. Plenty of fans will feel it is not an area of the team that needs strengthening but, for Mourinho at least, it is a pressing concern.
Andreas Pereira deserves to stay and play
If the point of taking Pereira on tour this summer was to give him a chance to prove himself, the Belgian-born Brazilian youth international has ticked every box. No one played more minutes in the U.S. and he started again against Bayern on Sunday. He has spent preseason learning to play as a No.6 -- helped by new coach Michael Carrick -- and with Nemanja Matic sidelined with an abdominal injury there should be a chance for him to start the season as first-choice. He may find opportunities limited when Matic makes his comeback and Paul Pogba returns from holiday but Pereira has done enough to suggest he will be a useful addition to the squad. He deserves to stay rather than being farmed out on loan for the third season in a row.
The midfield should look more balanced
There will be plenty of United fans who have not seen enough of new £47 million midfielder Fred. He was injured during the World Cup and has been working his way back to full fitness in games against Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich this summer. Still, there has been enough there to hint that he should slot well into United's midfield. Mourinho trialled 3-5-2 during preseason but is expected to revert back to 4-3-3 once the season starts. When everyone is fit that should mean a midfield three of Matic, Pogba and Fred which, on paper at least, looks more balanced than it did last season. Fred should add more energy into United's press with a touch of Brazilian flair added in. There is no reason why they shouldn't prove themselves to be one of the best midfields in the Premier League.
Full-back is an issue
Mourinho will head into the season with Antonio Valencia and new signing Diogo Dalot as his options at right-back and Ashley Young and Luke Shaw on the left. Of his preferred pairing, Valencia is injured and Young has only just returned to training after the World Cup. On top of that, both are now 33. Dalot, only 19 and with just a handful of senior appearances for Porto under his belt, is an unknown quantity and Shaw is unlikely to have done enough during preseason to convince Mourinho he should be playing every week. United aren't blessed with natural width further forward and the onus is on the full-backs to get higher up the pitch. If they can't, or won't, United will look slow and stagnant when they attack.
There is still a problem with creativity
During the first half against Real Madrid in Miami, there was a glimpse of a dangerous, adventurous team. The goals from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera were United's two best moments of the summer -- but they both came inside the same 45 minutes in the middle of a six-game preseason. The worry against Bayern was not the result but that a front three of Sanchez, Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata could not muster one shot on target. Too many times last season United looked ponderous and predictable and there has not been much on show this summer to indicate that has changed.