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Manchester United preseason priorities: Striker, Mount, more

Manchester United arrive in the United States on Thursday as preparations for the new season step up and manager Erik ten Hag works to build on a successful first campaign in charge. After winning the Carabao Cup and securing a return to the UEFA Champions League in his first year at Old Trafford, Ten Hag has added Mason Mount to his squad, while goalkeeper Andre Onana is set to follow from Inter Milan.

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It’s the next stage of his rebuild that he will hope gets United nearer to challenging Manchester City at the top of the table. Despite progress in the transfer market, Ten Hag will land in New York — ahead of games against Arsenal in New Jersey, Wrexham in San Diego, Real Madrid in Houston and Borussia Dortmund in Las Vegas — with issues to solve while he’s in the United States.

Here’s a look at the big questions facing the United manager while on preseason tour.

Sign a striker

It was Ten Hag’s priority this summer and it’s still not happened, although he will be happy the club have brought in Mount and Onana early in the window. United didn’t score enough goals last season — their 58 in the Premier League was only seven more than relegated Leicester City — and signing a No. 9 would make a big difference to the squad. Established goal scorers like Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen have, so far, been out of reach and so the recruitment department are looking at other options such as Rasmus Hojlund, Randal Kolo Muani and Goncalo Ramos.

They come with a bigger risk, but Ten Hag will know he can’t go into the season with only Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial as his options up front. Rashford would rather play on the left and Martial is too unreliable, especially with his fitness record. Ten Hag also needs to know what’s happening with Mason Greenwood after a club suspension that has now lasted more than 18 months.

Decide on Mount’s role

The big benefit of bringing Mount in early from Chelsea is that Ten Hag will have the whole summer to integrate his new midfielder. It’s a lot different to last summer when Casemiro and Antony were signed after the season had already started with back-to-back defeats to Brighton and Brentford.

The issue to solve is how Mount is going to play with Bruno Fernandes. Both will want to get on the ball and be creative, but Ten Hag will need to make sure they don’t get in each other’s way.

Because players are allowed freedom to make their own decisions in the Dutchman’s system, much will depend on the chemistry between Mount and Fernandes, and the tour is the perfect opportunity to work on it.

Have a look at the young players

It’s unusual for United to schedule a game specifically for young players on a senior preseason tour, but the fixture against Wrexham in San Diego is a chance for Ten Hag to get a closer look at who’s in the academy. A group of youngsters will travel to San Diego early, while the first team trains in New York, with a view to playing against the League Two side alongside some of the senior players who are in need of minutes. Alejandro Garnacho has shown there is a pathway from the academy to the first team under Ten Hag, and players like Kobbie Mainoo will hope to establish themselves as part of the senior group ahead of next season.

Raise funds by transferring players out

United’s summer budget is tight, which means it’s important that some players leave in order to free up more funds. Eric Bailly and Alex Telles are surplus to requirements after spending last season out on loan, and Dean Henderson is expected to join Nottingham Forest on a permanent deal. Bailly has already been told he won’t travel to the U.S. Ten Hag is also open to offers for a number of other players including Harry Maguire, Fred, Donny van de Beek and Anthony Elanga.

If United can raise £50m through a couple of departures, it could mean more money to spend on a striker, or an additional midfielder later in the window. Ten Hag will want to keep a large squad, particularly because of his desire to play strong teams in the domestic cup competitions, but the U.S. tour will help him identify the players who can be allowed to move on.

Calm the dressing room

Ten Hag did a good job of stabilising the dressing room last season after it had descended into chaos towards the end of Ralf Rangnick’s time in charge, and he’ll have to manage his squad carefully this summer, too. Stripping Maguire of the captaincy is the right decision because he’s not a regular in the team but it’s still a big call to make — one that could potentially raise eyebrows elsewhere in the group. Sources have told ESPN that after losing the armband, Maguire will consider his options amid interest from West Ham but there’s no guarantee that another club will be able to meet United’s valuation, and it’s possible the England defender will stay at Old Trafford next season.

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