In their opening three games of the new Premier League season, Manchester United’s unconvincing displays so far have left them on the receiving end of criticism. With Manchester United looking to kick on from their third place finish in the Premier League and Carabao Cup triumph last season, Andy Cole, who won eight major honours during his time at Old Trafford, believes that people need to be more realistic with their expectations this season and thinks that a title charge is a stretch too far for Erik ten Hag’s men at this moment. Andy also spoke to Betfred regarding the form of Casemiro, Mason Mount’s start to life as a Manchester United player and potential incomings at Old Trafford during the final few days of the transfer window.

With six points from their first three games, do you currently believe that this Manchester United team can challenge for all honours on offer this season? What were your thoughts on Manchester United’s 3-2 victory over Nottingham Forest on Saturday?

“First and foremost, to come back from 2-0 down is a massive feat, especially when you consider how early on in the season it is. When it comes to Manchester United challenging, it all depends on which capacity. I believe they could win another cup and have a good season but when you talk about challenging for the league title, then people need to start being realistic. The gap between Manchester United and Manchester City is huge. 

“I hear people say nonsense things like, ‘If they bring in this player, then they’ll win the Premier League.’ What if every team brought in a top player, are they all going to win the league? That’s obviously not possible. I saw Harry Redknapp say that if Manchester United brought in Harry Kane then they would have won the Premier League this season. How? Do Manchester City only need to bring in one player to improve themselves? I don’t think they do, so I think in Manchester United’s case, it’s going to be very difficult for them to compete for the Premier League title this season, but the top four isn’t out of their reach.”

If there’s no additional signings before Friday’s transfer deadline, then how would you rate Manchester United’s transfer window?

“They need a few players, but I don’t know if they will happen in the next few days. They could happen in the January transfer window instead. They’re a few players short currently but it all depends on what sort of players they want to actually bring in because for me personally, they should only be bringing in players that are going to improve the team and not just players that are already on an even keel with what they already have. The same goes for any team for that matter. The next level is to buy players that are better than what you already have as clubs need to have aspirations. Manchester United want to move on and start securing players that are going to improve them and take them to the next level.”

Bruno Fernandes has been on the receiving end of criticism this past few weeks, with a number of pundits suggesting that Erik ten Hag has made the wrong decision by appointing him as the club’s new permanent captain. Do you agree with the criticism? 

“Every captain leads in a different way. Some captains are vocal and some lead the team by the way they play. In this era of footballers especially, you need to be even more careful about what you say as it can be easy to upset people. Whether Bruno is the right or wrong choice to be captain is not for me to say because the manager has chosen him. In football, we all form opinions about people and regardless of what opinion there is of him as a captain, he’s been a fantastic player for Manchester United. He’s the chosen captain and everybody should just get on with it.”

Do you believe the criticism surrounding Antony’s form is fair?

“In general, end product is massive in football. Does he create chances for his teammates? Not really. Does he contribute by scoring goals? Not really. Last season he scored eight goals in all competitions and provided five assists. If I was playing in a team and there was an inverted winger of Antony’s ilk, then as a centre-forward I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t being provided with enough assists because my job is to score goals. 

“I do understand the criticism he faces because he needs to be more productive and Manchester United spent a hell of a lot of money on him and I believe they would have expected a lot more from him. I understand that he’s only been in England for one year, so I completely understand that players need time to adapt, but I don’t believe he’s produced enough considering all the opportunities he’s had to play for Manchester United. He needs to do more, it’s that simple. 

“Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, if this was Paul Pogba, who came for the same sort of money, he would be absolutely berated every week.”

Casemiro is another Manchester United player that’s been prone to criticism at the start of the season. Despite a mighty impressive first season at the club, Jamie Carragher has been notably critical of the Brazilian’s performances against Wolves and Tottenham. Do you believe pundits who doubted him will be eating their words at the end of his second season?

“I know there’s been critics regarding how much Manchester United paid for Casemiro last summer and some people believe that the club should have moved for a young player such as Declan Rice, but ultimately they chose Casemiro and he’s been a brilliant signing for them. 

“We’re only three games into the new season, so what’s all the noise about? Let’s at least get to Christmas before we start making judgements. Casemiro is only three games into the new campaign, so let’s give him time to settle down. People are jumping to conclusions about him too soon at the moment.” 

“If he’s being criticised for flying into tackles in a rash fashion, he could be doing that out of frustration. When Casemiro does start playing well again, what are the critics going to say then? People are always going to criticise Manchester United when they haven’t started the season in the best fashion and football isn’t always a bed of roses.”

There’s been a lot said about the level of balance in Manchester United’s midfield, especially with the trio of Mason Mount, Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro, but do you expect the three of them to click as the season progresses?

“Time is a master in football. Just like any new partnership, you have to give it time and you can’t assume it’s not going to work in the long run if it doesn’t gel immediately. We just have to wait and see what happens as the season progresses. If you look at all the midfields at all the top Premier League teams, did they click straight away? No they didn’t. When Kevin De Bruyne moved to Manchester City, did he fit into their midfield immediately? No he didn’t, it took him a bit of time to adapt to his new surroundings. Everything takes time, so we need to wait and see how that trio develops on the pitch.”

Are you confident that Mason Mount will be a successful signing for Manchester United or do you have reservations?

“The manager has brought him in for a reason. Manchester United is a difficult club to move to and hit the ground running for whatever reason that may be. The questions around Mason started in Manchester United’s pre-season but he’s gone in there, taken the number seven shirt and welcomed the added pressure that comes with that. His first few performances haven’t gone the way that he would have liked them to go, but he just needs to keep his head down and work as hard as possible because the only way he’s going to win over his critics is by putting in performances. He’s now out for a spell injured but when he’s back, he needs to do everything he can to get everybody onside because it’s been a really difficult start for him.”

Do you believe Rasmus Højlund needs to make an instant impact for Manchester United when he returns from his injury? 

“He needs time to bed in because he’s a young player. His first game’s coming up and he’s just returned from an injury but considering the way that Manchester United have started, people will be on his case straight away because there hasn’t been any goals that have come from that central area so far. 

“Questions will be asked straight away, especially if he doesn’t start well because there’s been a lot of money spent on a kid that scored nine goals in Serie A last season. We can all say that he’s inexperienced and that he’s been bought for the long-term, but the crazy media attention that Manchester United receives means that it doesn’t allow players time to bed in, regardless of how much money has been spent on them. People will hound you as soon as things don’t go well.”

What are your overall thoughts on André Onana’s opening few games as a Manchester United player?

“His distribution’s absolutely crazy.  As a player in a team, regardless of whatever position you play in, you’re going to make mistakes from time to time. That’s part and parcel of football. I watched him during Manchester United’s pre-season tour and his distribution is absolutely ridiculous and he seems like a very commanding goalkeeper. It’s been a difficult start for him as there’s no way he would have thought that he would have conceded so many goals at the start of his Manchester United career, but he’s a very, very good goalkeeper.” 

Do you believe Kobbie Mainoo will have a big part to play at Manchester United this season?

“I watched him in pre-season and I wasn’t the only person to think ‘wow.’ The way the kid was playing was absolutely ridiculous and I asked one of the club’s hierarchy about what Kobbie’s going to do this season and they told me that he wasn’t going to be loaned out as the manager really likes him and I can see why. 

“He has everything in abundance. It was a bit of a sickener to see him get injured against Real Madrid but I believe if he keeps going the way he’s going, then he’ll have a big future at Manchester United. You look at how much Chelsea and Arsenal spent on [Moisés] Caicedo and [Declan] Rice respectively, Manchester United may not have to spend that much on a midfielder over the next few years because if Kobbie keeps going the way he’s going, then Manchester United are going to save themselves £100 million.”

After the injury to Luke Shaw at the back end of last week, Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella, Barcelona’s Marcos Alonso, Tottenham’s Sergio Reguilón and Brentford’s Rico Henry have all been tipped with moves to Old Trafford to fill the void. Do you believe Manchester United should make a move for any of that quartet? Do you believe Álvaro Fernández could get a chance to deputise for the injured left-backs currently on the sidelines?

“It all depends on how the manager views Álvaro in the long-term and not just for this period when Shaw and [Tyrell] Malacia are out injured. Erik’s view of Álvaro will be proven after Friday’s transfer deadline when we see if he’s still at the club or not and whether Manchester United have signed a new left-back or not. If they bring someone else in, then that’s proof that Manchester United don’t believe he’s good enough. There’s no other way of dressing it up. He did very well on loan at Preston and he did well during United’s pre-season tour, but time will tell if Álvaro gets his chance to show what he can do in a Manchester United shirt. 

“It doesn’t matter what team you are, you’re always looking to improve. The four players linked with Manchester United currently, are they better than Shaw or Malacia? I wouldn’t say they are. Cucurella went to Chelsea for £62 million and he’s hardly kicked a ball. Look at the way Chelsea played last season and you’ve got to ask why Marc wasn’t able to get in a team that was underperforming so much. I like Rico Henry and I believe he’s a really good player, but I’m unsure that he’s better than Shaw and Malacia. Reguilón can’t even get a game for Tottenham so if these players can’t improve Chelsea or Tottenham, then why should we expect them to improve Manchester United? The only player they’re linked with in the left-back area that’s playing regularly is Rico Henry at Brentford, but everybody else hasn’t kicked a ball for their clubs.”

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Ryan Gravenberch and Sofyan Amrabat are all currently linked with moves to Old Trafford before the transfer window shuts on Friday evening. Do you believe any of this trio are an upgrade on Scott McTominay, who could be on the move in the coming days, and Fred who’s recently departed for Fenerbahçe?

“Do I think any of them are an upgrade? Not really. For whatever reason, it looks as if Scott’s time at Manchester United is over. Whenever you see Manchester City sign a player, you can identify where those players are going to improve their team and that’s because the club always has their fingers on the pulse. 

“Some of the midfielders that are currently being linked with the club aren’t players that you can identify as a typical Manchester United player. You always have to look to upgrade on the players in your squad, especially the players you’re aiming to sell. These signings aren’t being bought to be a quick fix, you want players that are going to stay with you for the next three or four years. Manchester United can’t continue to pay big money for players that are only going to do the job for the next two years, otherwise you find yourselves faced with the same problems again, sooner rather than later.”

Do you believe Harry Maguire has made a mistake turning down a move to West Ham United? Do you believe staying at Manchester United this summer will affect his chances of getting into England’s Euro 2024 squad?

“We never know the real reasons why a player decides against a certain move or why a transfer falls through. We don’t know what’s going on in the background. Whenever Harry’s played for England, he’s never let them down. I believe he will get into England’s Euro 2024 squad regardless of whether he stays at Manchester United this season or not. I know Gareth Southgate’s said that his players need game time, but that issue never stopped him selecting Harry last season, so that’s not going to stop Gareth now. 

“The whole playing for England situation has never changed, a manager will always have players that have performed well for them previously in their mind. This has always happened with England over the past 20 years. It doesn’t matter how well you play for your club, it’s all about how you’ve played for England and nine times out of ten, England will play the same team. For that reason, I really can’t see Harry Maguire being left out of England’s squad if he’s not playing for Manchester United often this season.” 

What’s your prediction for Arsenal versus Manchester United on Sunday?

“If last season’s fixture is anything to go by, then it’s going to be a really good game. Arsenal will be wounded from their draw with Fulham on Saturday and Manchester United have to pick up their form. United are going to have to play really well if they’re going to beat Arsenal and I believe it will be a really tight encounter.”

Which six clubs do you believe will occupy the top six come the end of the Premier League season and in what order?

“Being honest, I can’t look past Manchester City winning the title this season. I’ll say Arsenal second and either of Manchester United and Liverpool to finish third and fourth. I believe Chelsea will finish fifth and Tottenham will finish sixth. 

“This season is a massive season for Newcastle United. If you listen to Eddie Howe, I believe the team are further along in their project as they would have expected to have been at this point and it will be really interesting to see how they do with an increased fixture list. My top six predictions could be very different to the way it actually ends up, so there’s a decent chance for everybody.”

Despite it being early on in the new campaign, we want to ask you for some predictions. Firstly, which transfer do you believe will be the Premier League’s signing of the season?

“There have been a couple of smart additions by Premier League clubs. James Maddison is a typical Tottenham player and I believe that’s a move that’s going to work out. Joško Gvardiol is a very good signing too. When you talk about centre-backs, Manchester United should have been in for him because there’s all this talk that they want another signing in that position. Brennan Johnson, who could move in the final days of the window, is a player I really like. I used to play with his dad when I was younger and I can understand why Brentford and Tottenham are both very interested in him and prepared to bid so much for him. He’s got it all in front of him and I believe he’s a really good player.”  



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