When Erik ten Hag started working at Manchester United even before the end of last season, his intention was to gain a head start in the build-up to his debut campaign in the Old Trafford dugout.
This did not turn out to be the case. There are now less than two weeks until United start their Premier League action against Brighton and several issues still plague the Dutchman.
More importantly, it’s fair to say that things haven’t quite gone to plan for Ten Hag in the transfer market.
United have made three new additions so far – Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez – but are struggling to secure deals for other targets and have been rocked by superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo demanding to leave.
sports mail takes a look at the issues still facing the Red Devils and assesses how the squad could look against Brighton on August 7.
Things haven’t gone as planned for Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag in the transfer market
Cristiano Ronaldo wants out
This turns out to be the biggest transfer saga of the summer and one that Ten Hag could definitely do without.
Ronaldo told United he wanted to leave the club as he felt he could not compete for the biggest trophies at Old Trafford.
The 37-year-old only checked into Carrington for the first time in pre-season on Tuesday, having missed the previous three weeks – including the entire Thailand and Australia tour – after being given compassionate leave for a family problem.
Superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo has told United he wants to leave this summer
Crucial talks are continuing over Ronaldo’s future, involving Ten Hag, United chief executive Richard Arnold and striker Jorge Mendes’ agent.
Ten Hag has generally remained tight-lipped about the saga but reiterated he wants Ronaldo in his plans for the new season.
Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and even his former club Real Madrid have all turned down the opportunity to sign the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
That’s of course good for United who want him to stay, but they could end up with a very unhappy superstar if Ronaldo is still at the club on September 2.
The 37-year-old checked in at Carrington on Tuesday for the first time in pre-season
Frenkie de Jong rejects a decision
With Ronaldo wanting out, United are struggling to convince Frenkie de Jong to move to Old Trafford.
The Dutch midfielder is one of Ten Hag’s priority targets this summer as he was the crown jewel when they were both at Ajax.
Now De Jong is at Barcelona, who have made it clear they want to sell him in order to make room on the wage bill for their string of new signings, including Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha.
Frenkie de Jong reportedly told Manchester United he would not move to the club
United have agreed a £63million fee for the 25-year-old, but the problem lies with De Jong himself who doesn’t like the change.
According to Cadena SER, he has told his Barcelona team-mates and the United hierarchy that he will not move to Old Trafford this summer.
This is partly because Barca still owe the Dutchman £17million in wages, which United will be urging them to pay.
The Red Devils won’t give up the pursuit of De Jong even if it takes until the start of the new season. Ten Hag has made it clear that the midfielder is central to his plans, so United chiefs Richard Arnold and John Murtough will do their utmost to get the deal done.
Ten Hag has made the midfielder, who he managed at Ajax, one of his priority transfer targets
Ajax raise Antony’s price
Ten Hag has already raided his former club Ajax for a player in Lisandro Martinez, but he is keen to make it a double by signing Brazil winger Antony.
The problem is that the Eredivisie champions insist the 22-year-old is not for sale after contributing 12 goals and 10 assists in all competitions last season.
To underline their message, Ajax have raised Antony’s price from £68m to £84m – meaning United are set to make him their second most expensive signing ever behind Paul Pogba .
It’s a blow for Ten Hag, who has yet to strengthen his front line since joining Old Trafford.
Representatives for the winger were in Manchester earlier this month for talks with the United hierarchy, but Ajax’s position is making the deal increasingly difficult to complete.
Ajax have raised the price of winger Antony from £68m to £84m
How United could line up if things go Ten Hag’s way
In Ten Hag’s dream world, he manages to convince Ronaldo to stay at the club and also secures the signing of his former Ajax managers De Jong and Antony.
All three would likely fit into his starting lineup: De Jong strengthening midfield, Antony entering on the right wing and Ronaldo in attack looking to add to his 24 goals last season.
There are unlikely to be more new signings in defence, which is the one area Ten Hag can confidently plan ahead of the new season.
David De Gea will enter his 12th campaign between the sticks for United, while Diogo Dalot and Harry Maguire are expected to retain their places at right-back and centre-back respectively.
Of course, there are question marks over Maguire’s place as he was dropped by Ralf Rangnick last season after several poor performances, but the England defender has retained the captaincy under Ten Hag.
Harry Maguire retained the captaincy under Ten Hag but still has to fight for his place
The Dutchman praised Maguire in pre-season but also warned he will have to fight to keep his place like any other player.
One thing that could help Maguire is £55million newcomer Lisandro Martinez, who arrives alongside him at left centre-back, allowing the former Leicester man to move into a more natural role on the right side .
New boy Tyrell Malacia will likely complete the back four at left-back ahead of Luke Shaw.
Fred has had an impressive pre-season and would be the favorite to keep his place in midfield instead of Scott McTominay should De Jong arrive, while Bruno Fernandes is one of the first names on the squad roster.
Jadon Sancho, hoping to improve on a disappointing first season at Old Trafford, would complete a threatening front three alongside Antony and Ronaldo.
How United could line up against Brighton if things go down Erik ten Hag is in the transfer market
How United could line up if things don’t go Ten Hag’s way
Of course, this all seems far too simple. The likelihood of De Jong, Antony and Ronaldo all leaving against Brighton seems quite illusory at the moment.
Without them, United undoubtedly look weaker. Mainly because they would be stuck with players who contributed to their worst Premier League points tally last season.
In midfield, Scott McTominay would likely reestablish his partnership with Fred despite the arrival of Christian Eriksen.
New arrival Christian Eriksen will not be guaranteed a starting spot in United midfield
The Danish international, who signed a three-year contract at Old Trafford, scored on his unofficial debut in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Wrexham on Wednesday, but it’s hard to see a place for him in the line-up starting point given he is an attacking midfielder option like Fernandes.
Initially, Anthony Martial was rejuvenated under Erik Ten Hag and scored three goals in four games in pre-season, but the Frenchman wouldn’t be able to replicate Ronaldo’s goalscoring tally over an entire campaign.
It’s no surprise that United are watching a number of attacking targets in case the Portuguese superstar leaves, with Red Bull Salzburg’s Benjamin Sesko and Napoli’s Victor Osimhen reportedly on their radar.
Without Antony on the wing, there would be a reprieve for Marcus Rashford – another player who desperately underperformed last season and will be keen to prove his worth.
How the Red Devils could start against the Seagulls if things don’t go the Dutchman’s way