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Martial shines, Varane’s place in danger


PERTH, Australia — Manchester United players and staff landed at Manchester Airport on Sunday after nearly three weeks in Thailand and Australia to begin final preparations for the start of the Premier League season.

Erik ten Hag has two weeks to make final decisions before picking his squad to play Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on August 7. This fortnight includes two other 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 imposed the rule on more than 30 players, while new signings Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen are expected to join the group this week. The tour has been positive for some members of the squad, but others will return to Manchester with doubts about their role ahead of the new campaign.

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

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WINNERS

Martial started this summer unsure of his own future, but after three weeks in Thailand and Australia, the Frenchman made his case to start against Brighton in two weeks. He took advantage of Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence and started all four games as a central striker in the Ten Hag system, scoring three goals against Liverpool, Melbourne Victory and Crystal Palace. The coaching staff were also impressed with the way he took in information, such as when to press and the direction of his runs. Martial had such an impact that Ten Hag has now ruled out letting him go before the deadline no matter 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 last game against Aston Villa. More importantly, his growing understanding with Martial and Marcus Rashford was evident with a smooth team goal against Palace, which cut the defense to pieces with incisive passing and clever movement. Ten Hag still has time to decide who should start in the opener against Brighton but, barring a late injury, Sancho is almost guaranteed to be in the squad.

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


LOSERS

Varane insisted during the trip that he has no regrets about his decision to leave Real Madrid for United 12 months ago but, returning to Manchester from Perth on Saturday night, he will realize he faces a battle to get into Ten Hag’s team. The United boss has spent almost £50million on Martinez and he told ESPN during his tour that he backs Harry Maguire to be a regular starter, leaving little doubt that Varane is about to start the season on the bench. It didn’t help that the France international battled injury – which was also the case last season – only to miss out on precious minutes. Varane has won the Champions League and World Cup four times and will back himself to eventually replace Maguire but, for now at least, he faces a tough task.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Whether Wan-Bissaka is good enough to play for United has long been debated, 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 substitutions against Melbourne Victory he was left on the bench and youngster Ethan Laird was given 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 much better bet. Wan-Bissaka has employed a specialist coach over the summer to help him with his passing and crosses, but he still doesn’t offer enough to warrant a place in the squad.

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 saw Malacia arrive from Feyenoord. Shaw and Malacia shared left-back duties during the tour, leaving Telles to fill in at centre-back and in midfield. In the end, he seemed to be literally making up numbers. Telles still has two years left on his contract, plus an option for another season, so he’s entitled to stay where he is for now, but there’s not much chance he’ll play next season – or even him being the second choice behind Shaw.

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