By News Team
Last Updated: 18th August 2021
Former Manchester United star Lee Sharpe has told William Hill that his old side have the quality in numbers to mount a serious Premier League title bid in the upcoming campaign.
The Red Devils kick off their campaign at home to Leeds on Saturday, and Sharpe hopes his former club can hit the ground running and set the standards high for a Premier League title push in the upcoming season, stating that the additions to the squad show the club mean business.
“I’m expecting them to be better than last year,” Sharpe told William Hill. “I know last year they finished second and did well, but the big boys like Liverpool and Chelsea got off to a slow start, so I think there were too many dropped points last year. Too many draws at home and not enough goals scored, so I think this year they can learn from that and with a few signings coming in I think they can make a really good go of it this year.”
While Manchester United have added to the squad with high profile signings like Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and the imminent arrival of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid, Sharpe believes there could be more to come from United’s existing stars, including Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.
He said: “Jadon Sancho signing will give everyone a boost, given the pace he’s got and the ability to go past players and score goals is amazing. I think Paul Pogba, if he can get on a little bit of a roll, will be like a new signing.
“I think Bruno Fernandes looks good after a few goals in pre-season. I was criticised last season after saying the jury was still out on Fernandes, but what I meant by that was by comparing him to the all-time greats at Manchester United, and he does score great free-kicks and puts nice passes through, but at times when the team’s in trouble he can give the ball away cheaply.
“I’m not sure if part of that was to do with fans not at the stadium and it not being as intense as it could be, and I think he’ll benefit from playing in front of big crowds and big games. So, I’m expecting big things from him, Pogba, Edinson Cavani, and maybe even Anthony Martial if they end up keeping him. If they get him firing on all cylinders, he can be unplayable.”
On the other side of Manchester, United’s rivals Manchester City completed the British record signing of Jack Grealish for £100m, and Sharpe admits he would have loved to have seen the former Aston Villa captain head to Old Trafford instead.
“I love Jack Grealish, he’s one of my favourite players, and I would have loved to have seen him sign for Manchester United,” Sharpe admitted. “I’m not sure where he would have fitted in, but I love to watch him, as he goes past people like they’re not even there. I’m yet to see if City is the right club for him, as he needs a lot of time on the ball and nobody at Man City tends to hold onto the ball for long periods of time. He’ll become a better player under Pep, but for £100m it’s an outrageous amount and for that reason I do hope it works out for all parties.”
Another player Sharpe believes Man United can get more out of this season is Marcus Rashford, who after enduring a difficult summer at the Euros now looks to be sidelined with injury for a few months.
“One of the problems with Rashford last season was he playing with injuries a lot,” he said. “I think because he was so important to the team, it was hard to leave him out at times because things were stop-start with draws here and there, and they needed him available. Now with the shoulder injury, he’ll have time to get himself fit and hungry again. When he comes back, he could be like another fresh new signing.”
With the imminent arrival of Varane from Madrid, and the medical and wages reportedly on the cusp of being finalised, Sharpe believes United will be acquiring a player that will help the squad mentally on and off the pitch, as well as providing quality on the field.
“The amount of title run-ins he’s been involved in, as well as the amount of Champions League, World Cup and Euros tournaments he’s played in, and the standard he’ll be setting in training will be great for the younger players,” said Sharpe. “He might take a while to settle in with the amount of games that come thick and fast, but they’ve got decent back-up if he does need a break to rest injuries. But I do think he’ll be very valuable in the dressing room too.”
Asked whether or not there’s enough competition for places in the side, Sharpe believes there’s little to be concerned about, as long as the starting XI at Old Trafford performs well enough to compete with the teams at the top.
He said: “I’m not sure you need lots of competition in the team, as standards will be set in training and top players make sure others are kept on their toes. Maybe the full-backs are getting an easy ride as there aren’t many players to contend with, but the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw don’t make that many mistakes anyway.”
Sharpe added: “In midfield it’ll be dependent on the formation, who they play, and there could be tough decisions. Up front, there’s an unbelievable talent and lots of match-winning players, so I think United have to get off the front foot and start well.
“There’s two world-class goalkeepers in David De Gea and Dean Henderson,” Sharpe said. “I still love De Gea and think he makes outstanding saves, and Henderson hasn’t put a foot wrong when he’s come in. They’ve brought in Tom Heaton too, so they’re in a great place for goalkeepers. It’s a tough decision for who to go with, and you can’t change goalkeepers too often, so it’ll be hard for Ole.”
Challenged on what success would look like for Man United this season, Sharpe is adamant that the club need to add silverware to the trophy cabinet in the upcoming campaign and that a title push should be the minimum expectation for 2021/22.
“I think they definitely have to push for the title, although I doubt many would complain if they came runners-up and there were a few points in it heading into the last few games, but I can’t see people being happy if it’s over by March or April. They need a better run in the Champions League, and if they could win the FA Cup that would be a bonus. Challenging in the latter stages of the Premier League and Champions League is a must this year.”
Looking ahead to United’s opening fixture of the season at Old Trafford on Saturday – against Sharpe’s other former side Leeds – the former midfielder believes that this game still holds huge appeal to fans of a certain generation, and that he always looks forward to Manchester United versus Leeds in the top-flight.
He said: “This is one of the biggest games. Man United v Liverpool and Man United v Leeds are one of the most hostile matches, and to start the season with this one, you’re licking your lips as a player. You know the atmosphere’s going to be electric, brutal from the first minute and 100 miles per hour. It’s going to be a great game and I can’t wait.
“It was always tough to play in. The home games were nicer, as when you played away it was never pleasant. You got abuse on the coach when you turned up and it never stopped. But you look forward to it being done as quick as possible and get back out there, as the fans are never nice to you!
“I think this match will be 3-2 to Man United. I’m expecting some goals, and I think Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and maybe Harry Maguire will be on the scoresheet.”