The Premier League season is just around the corner, and Manchester United are readying themselves for a title challenge.
The Red Devils kicked off their pre-season preparations with a trip to Pride Park to face Derby County on Sunday afternoon, hoping to hit the ground running against the Championship outfit and their familiar coach, Wayne Rooney.
The first half went smooth enough, with Tahith Chong, currently on loan at Birmingham City (apparently) opening the scoring with a neat bit of play inside the Rams’ penalty area. Substitute Facundo Pellestri made it 2-0 on the hour-mark, and although Derby pulled one back, the visitors held on to claim the victory.
The boy has rarely had a chance at Old Trafford, and Chong is destined to spend another year away from his permanent home, having been sent on loan to Birmingham this summer.
He did feature for the Red Devils in this friendly though, and made an instant impact, robbing Derby’s Max Bird and beating the goalkeeper to smash home from close range.
He may not be in Solskjaer’s plans for this year, but if he can impress with the Blues in the Championship, he might be wearing red next season.
This Man Utd side is not without its weaknesses, of course. They have shown some defensive fragility throughout Solskjaer’s time at Old Trafford, and particularly on the right-hand side of defence.
Although Aaron Wan-Bissaka is an excellent one-on-one defender, he does have the tendency to tuck inside when the ball is on the other flank, leaving the back-post completely unguarded by any Red Devil.
Whether it’s a technical deficiency in his game or if Solskjaer asks him to do it is unclear, but Derby almost found some joy of their own in that area of the pitch. That trend needs to be ironed out.
Tom Heaton will have been ecstatic to make his return to Man Utd this summer, having left the club back in 2010. 11 years later, he pulled on the jersey and gloves for the Premier League giants, and gave a good account of himself.
The former Burnley man made a smart save in the first half too, showing his excellent reflexes to palm away a close-range effort and keep the Red Devils ahead.
He won’t get much game time this year, but Man Utd have got plenty of backup between the sticks, and a great personality to have around the dressing room.
Man Utd supporters were aware that they probably wouldn’t be seeing Pellestri for a while when he put pen to paper at Old Trafford in October 2020, but they might be slightly more optimistic for this season.
The 19-year-old can only impress in this pre-season and hope his coach likes what he sees, and Solskjaer will have been immensely encouraged by the calmness his starlet showed in front of goal for the winning strike.
Picked out by the equally talented Shola Shoretire, Pellestri sized up goalkeeper Kelle Roos, feigned a shot and then rolled his foot over the ball, rounding the shot-stopper and sliding home. Easy.
Of course, the key for Solskjaer was to get as many minutes in the tank for as many players as possible on Sunday. The Norwegian made nine substitutions at half-time and even made a further three throughout the second half.
That allowed the majority of Man Utd’s squad to get a run out, with some old faces starring on their return to the side. Jesse Lingard was one who almost announced his comeback with a goal, but his brilliant strike from range rattled the post.
There’s endless depth in this squad, and they’re all getting the minutes they so desperately need.