Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed Jadon Sancho to come good after a slow start with the club.

The 21-year-old has made five appearances for Untied since signing from Borussia Dortmund for around £73million after a high-profile transfer pursuit that lasted over a year.

England international Sancho arrived to huge fanfare, though he is yet to register a goal or assist going into Sunday's Premier League trip to West Ham.

A frustrating start for Sancho continued when he was sacrificed in the first half of Tuesday's Champions League loss to Young Boys, the winger taken off as part of a reshuffle when Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off.

Solskjaer, though, insists nothing has changed in his evaluation of Sancho, who he feels can be a "top forward" for United over more than a decade.

"He is learning all the time," Solskjaer told reporters before the West Ham clash.

"As I said in training as well, he is learning our methods, he is learning the Premier League and of course, he knows the Champions League already from being at Dortmund.

"He is a young boy, he is only 21 and he will improve. 

"We signed him as we see a top forward for 10, 12, 15 years and I have not changed my mind on that.

"He is so clean on the ball and is enthusiastic to learn and that is such a big thing when you come to Manchester United.

"You are always going to get a chance and you play with some of the best players in the world, you are getting some fantastic coaching with the coaches I have got too."

United will do battle with their former manager David Moyes when they take on West Ham, with Sancho not a certainty to start given Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the options in attacking positions.

Since his sacking in 2014, Moyes has failed to win any of his seven games against United in all competitions, losing five of those.

However, in-form Ronaldo has a mixed record against West Ham.

The Portugal star was involved in six goals in his last four league appearances against them in his first spell in England (five goals, one assist), though he also suffered three top-flight defeats to the Hammers.

Only against Chelsea (four) has Ronaldo suffered more Premier League losses than he has against West Ham.

Jadon Sancho's arrival at Manchester United was initially heralded as something of a game changer for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, their right-wing problems set to be a thing of the past with the England international seemingly guaranteeing goals and creativity. 

But, as it did with most other stories in football, Cristiano Ronaldo's signing took the spotlight away and it seems everyone has been focused on the Portugal talisman. 

That might actually be a helpful thing for Sancho, given his start to life at United has been about as explosive as a candle. He is there, in the background, but unless you look at him it is very easy to forget his existence. 

Sancho thus far appears to have largely escaped full-scale criticism, with Ronaldo's goalscoring return and then United's embarrassing loss to Young Boys somewhat eclipsing the winger's muted introduction. 

That is not to say his ineffectiveness has gone unnoticed, certainly not by supporters. But should they be concerned even this early in his United career? 

'Every player has slow periods'

Digging into Sancho's form after just four Premier League appearances probably seems a little premature. Maybe it is, but his slow start is certainly a talking point from United's perspective. 

There could be any number of reasons for Sancho taking a little longer to get up to speed than hoped, such as a shortened pre-season after Euro 2020, adapting to a new system and team-mates, or even a loss of confidence following his spot-kick woes in the European Championship final. 

But it is worth pointing out Sancho had a similarly tricky start to 2020-21, something his Borussia Dortmund coach at the time partly put down to United's interest. 

"Every player has slow periods. There was a lot of talk about Jadon during the summer – something like that can be a factor," Lucien Favre said in October last year. "No player is consistently in top form for an entire year, that's impossible. You have to accept that." 

Sancho's patchy form continued all the way up to Germany's mid-season break – at that point, he had not scored in 11 Bundesliga games and only laid on three assists. It was a far cry from his breakout season the previous campaign when he netted 17 and set up another 16 – that was the standard he set. 

Though that in itself should have been seen as unmatchable given how much he outperformed his expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA). In total, he was involved in 14.9 more goals than the average player would have ordinarily expected given the quality of the chances, which was the most across the top five European leagues (Ciro Immobile was second with 13.5). 

It was surely unsustainable form and that was what his struggles in the first half of 2020-21 lent further credence to. But how does his form back then compare to his first steps in the Premier League? 

Lacking cohesion in new surroundings

It must be highlighted again that Sancho's first four Premier League matches represent a small sample size, so you obviously have to be a little cautious when it comes to drawing conclusions – after all, he could potentially score a hat-trick against West Ham and his record of three goals from five games would look pretty handy. 

Nevertheless, Sancho's early-season numbers certainly reflect the idea he is not offering a great deal to United. In fact, in terms of productivity, he's significantly down even on that difficult first few months of 2020-21. 

For starters, he has managed just two shots in 184 minutes on the pitch, which is obviously poor for someone brought in to be an attacking threat, particularly given he averaged 2.4 every 90 minutes pre-Christmas last season. Though there is a positive spin – some players may take hopeful snapshots in an attempt to dig themselves out of a rut, but Sancho at least is not panicking in that sense. 

His stunted productivity does extend to creativity, however. Creating one chance from open play every 90 minutes, he's down on both the pre- (1.6) and post-Christmas (2.5) periods from 2020-21, and the combined quality of the openings he has crafted have not been especially threatening with an average xA of 0.11 per 90 minutes. 

Even when deemed to be struggling last season, Sancho's xA value per key pass was almost three times as high (0.32). Of course, Sancho was in surroundings that were familiar to him and linking with players whose habits and characteristics he was more comfortable with, and there's a lot to be said for the value of cohesion, especially when things aren't going your way. 

That is presumably something Sancho will have to work on even harder at United, given he has limited experience of playing with his new team-mates. 

Lacking confidence, playing it safe

Building a natural familiarity can only be even more of a challenge when you appear devoid of confidence. We can only speculate as to why that may be the case, but it is a reasonable assumption to make that he is lacking in self-belief. 

His ordeal at Euro 2020 – when he played just 96 minutes before being specifically sent on in the last seconds of extra time in the final and missed his spot-kick – and the subsequent racist abuse he suffered on social media must have had an impact on his mental state. It would be shocking if it had not, though who is to say if that is the sole cause? 

What we can say is that Sancho's apparent dip in confidence seems to have manifested in a greater reluctance to take players on. He almost looks sheepish when faced up by defenders – it should be the other way round – and as such he is attempting significantly fewer dribbles. 

He tried to beat his man 5.7 times per 90 minutes in the first part of 2020-21, and that rose to 6.9 after the mid-season break – he is attempting 3.9 dribbles and completing 1.5 each game in the Premier League for United. 

He is touching the ball far less often (64.1 touches per 90 minutes compared to 84.8 in the first half of last season), though 64 touches hardly suggests he is being ignored by team-mates. 

But there is always a chance that United players may end up looking to others if Sancho is not deemed enough of a threat – after all, his average of 4.9 shot-ending sequence involvements per game is 1.6 fewer than he managed across all of last season. 

This in itself is interesting because it suggests that, although Sancho was not as much of a creator or finisher in the first part of 2020-21, his influence in the build-up remained constant over the two periods of the campaign. 

Linked to that is the frequency with which he played passes (including crosses) into the box, averaging 9.4 each game pre-Christmas and 9.5 after the mid-season break. But during these early weeks with United, he is producing just 3.4 such passes every 90 minutes. 

Obviously, Sancho's reasoning for this could quite possibly be that he has not seen team-mates in enough space, given most teams United face will have fairly packed defences. But fans would argue he is the sort of player who should be unlocking deep backlines either through his creativity or ability on the ball, and so far he has largely been unable to. 

Nevertheless, it is still far too early for anyone to start suggesting Sancho is enduring something of a crisis. He should be afforded patience and time to build meaningful on-pitch relationships with others in the United squad. 

But when it comes to attaining some confidence, Sancho might just need to take the odd leap of faith – he is playing it safe and that is not what United bought him for. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hit out at the "farcical" situation that could prevent Brazil international Fred from playing for Manchester United this weekend.

United blocked Fred from joining up with his national side for their triple-leader of September World Cup qualifiers due to Brazil being on the United Kingdom's travel red list amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That would mean players having to isolate in a hotel for a minimum of 10 days upon their return, ruling them out for at least three matches.

However, the ​Brazilian Football Confederation has asked FIFA to enforce a law that would block players not released from representing their countries for at least five days.

Should that be the case, Fred will not be available for selection to face Newcastle United on Saturday, although United are still waiting on official confirmation.

Solskjaer has now joined Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, who are also set to be without some key players over the coming days, in calling on FIFA to show some common sense.

"It is a lose, lose, lose situation for everyone, national teams, players, clubs," he said at a pre-match news conference on Friday. "It has been a farce. 

"The players want to play. We know the situation we find ourselves in. We've had to try and find a way, but all the decisions have gone against the players.

"I'm disappointed with the whole thing. We need to prepare without Fred but fingers crossed some sense can come into it and we can use him."

Fred has started all three games for United so far this season and is second only to defender Harry Maguire (152) for successful passes (133), while only Aaron Wan-Bissaka (five) has intercepted the ball more times than the Brazilian (four).

While the 28-year-old's availability remains uncertain, Solskjaer confirmed returning forward Cristiano Ronaldo is in line for his second debut this weekend.

In further good news for United, who have seven points from the first nine on offer, Jadon Sancho is also available despite withdrawing from the England squad with a knock.

"Jadon has come back in with a minor problem but he's trained the last couple of days," Solskjaer said. 

"He's disappointed he couldn't play for England but determined to be fit and he’s available. So that's a positive. 

"The international break, we didn't get anyone injured.

"Luke [Shaw], Harry [Maguire] and Victor [Lindelof] played late on Wednesday night so they've not had a lot of recovery but they will be available, I think."

United have lost just one of their last 36 home league games against Newcastle (W26 D9), with that defeat coming in December 2013 when David Moyes was in charge.

The Red Devils have scored at least once in each of their last 14 Premier League home games, meanwhile, netting 40 times in total (2.9 per game).

Manchester United have a "massive" opportunity to win multiple titles this season following the return of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, according to former Red Devils winger Jesper Olsen.

Ronaldo is back at Old Trafford after re-joining United from Serie A giants Juventus before the transfer window closed last week – the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football signing a two-year contract with the option for a third in Manchester.

The 36-year-old won one of his five Ballon d'Or trophies with United, scoring 118 goals in 292 games across his first spell in Manchester as he clinched three Premier League titles and the Champions League – a competition he has since won four more times – before moving to Real Madrid in 2009.

Formerly a dazzling winger but now a penalty-box poacher, Ronaldo has netted 674 times across 895 club games in all competitions, averaging a goal every 108 minutes.

Between his entrance on the Premier League stage and his final appearance in May 2009, Frank Lampard (131) and Thierry Henry (124) were the only two to have a hand in more English top-flight goals than Ronaldo (118) – Henry (92) the only one to outscore Ronaldo's 84.

After his 12-year absence, Ronaldo – who scored the first of his 48 club hat-tricks against Newcastle United in 2008 – is in line to make his debut against the Magpies in the Premier League on Saturday, and former United winger Olsen is excited about the Portuguese's second coming.

"I think it's fantastic. It's a great way to finish his career I suppose. He is 36 now," Olsen, who won the FA Cup during his four years at United in the 1980s, told Stats Perform.

"I was doing a lot of work in Manchester at the time when he arrived, we looked after Wayne Rooney – our sports management company – I can only see the whole thing being positive.

"The stature of the guy and also the players around him getting to play with him and learn from him. Exciting for the Premier League, absolutely."

Not since 2012-13 – Alex Ferguson's final season in charge – have United won the Premier League, while the Red Devils have not celebrated silverware since claiming the Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield in 2016-17.

United, who finished second to rivals Manchester City in the Premier League in 2020-21, surprisingly lost to Villarreal in last season's Europa League final.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United have won two of their opening three league fixtures this season, ahead of Newcastle's visit to the Theatre of Dreams.

Ronaldo's last Premier League appearance was in May 2009 against Arsenal – if he faces Newcastle, it will set a new record for the longest gap between appearances in the competition's history (12 years, 118 days).

His last Premier League goal came 12 years and 124 days ago, against City in May 2009. Assuming he scores again for the Red Devils, only one player has ever had a longer gap between Premier League goals – Matt Jackson (13 years and 187 days between May 1993 and November 2006).

"It [Ronaldo's arrival] certainly hasn't made United weaker as a team. It isn't easy to win anything, we know that," Olsen continued. "We talk about Tottenham who haven't won anything for a long time. The Premier League is hard.

"The way United played last season, they got some rhythm and continuation in terms of winning matches. I think they have the spine and now the belief as well. The players seem to have settled in.

"The mixture of younger players, too. The likes of [Paul] Pogba and [Bruno] Fernandes performing well, [Edinson] Cavani coming on to score goals, [Mason] Greenwood as well. I think it's a really good mix. We know there's a lot of different competitions. It's a long season. It can only help them with that squad they have."

With United also bringing in top transfer target Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and World Cup-winning defender Raphael Varane via Real Madrid, pressure is on manager Solskjaer to deliver.

"Every year, if you play for United, you're expected to win titles – players and managers. Obviously, he came to United with a bit of experience but it's a massive club and a huge task," ex-Denmark international Olsen added.

"…It has to click but they definitely have a massive chance to not win one title but possibly a few over the next 12 months.

"It takes time but if you look as a player, and I don't think at any stage or age, if you look around Europe, the bigger clubs you can join, United surely stands as one of those at the top.

"They have certainly been on reliant on a way of playing that suits the team. They will have a lot of ball now with the way they play. It's a lot more settled. They've done really well in terms of signings. It can take some time to settle at United, but after a long time in the wilderness I suppose, it's settled down.

"Solskjaer is very calm and very structured. He knows what he's doing with his management team. It's a very exciting season. Obviously, it all depends on the games and if you win of course."

While fans and pundits have been buoyed by United's transfer business in 2021-22, one recent signing has been left in the wilderness.

Donny Van de Beek joined from Ajax last season amid much fanfare, however the Netherlands international is yet to make an appearance this term, having made just four Premier League starts in 2020-21.

"It doesn't make sense because we all know what he did for Ajax, but there's obviously something that the way Solskjaer wants to play doesn't fit in," Olsen, who also played for Dutch giants Ajax, said. "There's no doubt that you don't become a bad player overnight.

"Maybe he is getting used to a different style and system. Sometimes it takes a while but of course there would be people watching because you don't want to go two-three years without playing when you're such an exciting player who has done so much already."

Jadon Sancho has withdrawn from England's squad after sustaining a minor knock. 

England thrashed Hungary 4-0 in Budapest on Thursday as they made it four wins from four games in World Cup qualifying. 

Sancho, who left Borussia Dortmund to join Manchester United ahead of the 2021-22 season, was not involved at the Puskas Arena after suffering an injury in training. 

The winger will now not feature in the upcoming matches against Andorra and Poland either.

England confirmed on Saturday that the 21-year-old had returned to his club but is expected to be fit for the Red Devils' clash with Newcastle United on September 11. 

That game at Old Trafford will likely see Cristiano Ronaldo make his second debut for United, following the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's dramatic return. 

Gareth Southgate, who sees his side face Andorra on Sunday and Poland on Wednesday, was already without Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the Everton striker having pulled out due to a thigh injury. 

The transfer window does not close. It slams shut, and on Tuesday, it slammed shut with a flurry of late activity.

LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid were heavily involved, with Antoine Griezmann re-joining the club on loan from Barcelona while Saul Niguez left for Chelsea.

It marked the end of a difficult window for Barca, who of course lost Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, who rounded off a stellar three months by not only keeping Kylian Mbappe, but also adding promising left-back Nuno Mendes.

Earlier in the day, Cristiano Ronaldo's sensational return to Manchester United had been confirmed, perhaps putting the Red Devils right in the mix for the Premier League title, while Chelsea - buoyed by Romelu Lukaku's comeback - cannot be ignored.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the winners, and losers, of what has been a chaotic transfer window.

 

THE WINNERS

Paris Saint-Germain

Let's start with the obvious. Achraf Hakimi, Mendes, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georgino Wijnaldum and, of course Messi. Oh, and PSG kept hold of Mbappe, too, rebuffing three bids - the final one reportedly worth €200m - from Real Madrid for the 22-year-old superstar who is out of contract next year. Speaking of out of contract players, Ramos, Donnarumma, Wijnaldum and Messi were all brought in for combined fees of €0, although their wages are sure to be astronomical even by PSG's standards. In Mbappe, Neymar and Messi, PSG have, on paper, what could be the most feared attacking trident of the modern era, not to mention Angel Di Maria in reserve. Mauricio Pochettino's side look suspect defensively but have Ramos to come in, while Donnarumma will compete with Keylor Navas. If they do not win the Champions League this season, will they ever manage it?

Manchester United

It remains to be seen whether United really needed to go out and buy Ronaldo, but the temptation – and reportedly, the requirement to get one over on noisy neighbours Manchester City – was just too much. However, there is no doubting Ronaldo brings a focal point you could argue was still missing from the Red Devils' attack, though with so much quality at his disposal the pressure will be on Ole Gunnar Solskjer to deliver a trophy. United spent big on Jadon Sancho and also brought in a world class defender in Raphael Varane. A title tilt might not be expected just yet, but silverware in some form must be the goal now. After fan protests during the botched Super League proposals earlier this year, the Glazer family seem to have gone all out to prove they want success.

Chelsea

When it comes to Premier League title contenders, Chelsea have surely put themselves well in the running. The European Champions have brought in two major additions in the form of Lukaku and Saul, both players with a wealth of experience at the highest level, and both on the back of title-winning campaigns last season. The Blues did sell Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma, among others, but the strength in depth Thomas Tuchel has to play with is remarkable. A deadline day move for Sevilla's Jules Kounde did not materialise, but Saul adds another fantastic option in midfield to go alongside N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and the in-form Jorginho.

Tottenham

For a long while, it looked as though Tottenham would be one of the big losers from this window. A prolonged managerial search eventually resulted in Nuno Espirito Santo's appointment, but the main saga was over Harry Kane's future. City reportedly made one bid, during Euro 2020, which was dismissed out of hand. The champions never did return with an improved offer, despite huge speculation, and Kane ultimately stayed put. Older players such as Joe Hart, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Moussa Sissoko were moved out, while Bryan Gil, Pierluigi Gollini, Cristian Romero and Emerson Royal – a deadline day arrival from Barca – arrived to fill the gaps. Serge Aurier's contract was terminated, while three wins from three means Spurs sat top of the league heading into the international break.

Atletico Madrid

While Saul was a deadline day exit, Atleti have given themselves a great chance of retaining their LaLiga title. With rivals Madrid failing to land Mbappe, as well as losing two of their stalwarts, and Barca seemingly in disarray, there has never been a better opportunity for Diego Simeone's team to really assert themselves as top dogs in Spain. Griezmann's arrival, on a season-long loan with the option for either club to extend the switch, has bolstered a fearsome attack that already included Luis Suarez, Angel Correa, new signing Matheus Cunha and Joao Felix - though the latter may now find chances to play in his preferred position, nominally off the front man, even harder to come by. Saul was struggling to nail down a regular spot in the first team, but Atleti showed greater desire to keep Kieran Trippier, who stayed despite interest from the Premier League. Rodrigo de Paul also arrived from Udinese.

 

THE LOSERS

Barcelona

The chickens have finally come home to roost at Camp Nou. Years of mismanagement, and the impact of COVID-19, has left the club's finances in a shambolic state. Barca had agreed to a new deal with Messi only to then announce the deal could not be completed due to "financial and structural obstacles". Barca ended the window by selling promising youngster Ilaix Moriba to RB Leipzig and shipping off Emerson to Spurs. Then, late on Tuesday, Griezmann, who cost Barca €120m in 2019, was sent back to Atleti. Luuk de Jong, a target man Ronald Koeman worked with during his stint as the Netherlands' coach, was drafted in from Sevilla as a replacement. Memphis Depay seems ready to step up after his arrival from Lyon, while Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero also came in on free transfers, though Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were among the players who took pay cuts in order for Barca to register their latest acquisitions.

Inter

Serie A champions Inter were dealt a blow when, just after ending their 11-year trophy drought, coach Antonio Conte left the club. Financial difficulties meant the Nerrazurri had to cash in on prized assets, and Hakimi and subsequently Lukaku followed Conte out of the door. Lautaro Martinez did stay, however, with Inter reinvesting some of the funds to sign Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries, Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Lazio forward Juan Correa. Hakan Calhanoglu, meanwhile, joined from rivals Milan on loan, though it is difficult to see that being enough for Inter to challenge on all fronts this season.

 

Juventus

While Inter were weakened, it has to be said that Juventus – surely their closest rivals in the Scudetto hunt – also had a disappointing window. Like many European clubs, they have been hit hard by COVID-19, though appeared well set to challenge again after reappointing Massimiliano Allegri. However, Ronaldo decided he wanted out late in the window, and Juve did not stand in his way. An initial fee of £12.86m (€15m), payable over five years, was agreed with United, and Ronaldo left just like that. Moise Kean returned from Everton on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy as a replacement, while Manuel Locatelli was their other major acquisition and Weston McKennie's move from Schalke was made permanent. Based on the performance in Sunday's defeat to Empoli, however, Juve are far from the force they were during Allegri's last spell in charge.

Real Madrid

For a time last week, it really did look as though Madrid were going to end the window in sensational fashion. Three bids were lodged for Mbappe, but PSG did not buckle. Madrid did move for another French youngster – Edouardo Camavinga, who joined from Rennes on Tuesday – but overall it must be considered a poor window. Los Blancos allowed Ramos to leave on a free and sold long-time defensive partner Varane - just the eight Champions League winners' medals between them. Martin Odegaard was deemed surplus to requirements by Carlo Ancelotti and sold to Arsenal, though no buyers were found for fringe players Luka Jovic or Dani Ceballos. David Alaba's arrival on a free transfer from Bayern Munich at least softened the blow of Ramos' departure, and Mbappe may well be on board in 2022.

Manchester City

City broke the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, who in turn have made smart acquisitions such as Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia. While another attacking midfielder was more of a luxury than a necessity, City did miss out on Kane and then seemingly saw Ronaldo snatched from under their noses by United, though the club have claimed it is they who pulled out of the deal. Pep Guardiola went into the window wanting an out-and-out number nine following Aguero's departure, but for now the Premier League champions will have to carry on with makeshift forwards, it seems. Not that it did them much harm in 5-0 routs of Norwich City and Arsenal last month. Meanwhile, wantaway playmaker Bernardo Silva is still at the club, though he will remain a first-team regular.

Liverpool 

Unlike their league rivals, Liverpool never seemed focused on spending big. The Reds instead turned their attention to tying down the futures of key players, with Jordan Henderson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Fabinho and Andrew Robertson signing new deals. Ibrahima Konate came in from RB Leipzig to boost the defence – a clear area of weakness last season during an injury crisis – though Jurgen Klopp's squad does seem weaker. They have started the season well, but it remains to be seen how they cope without Wijnaldum and even Xherdan Shaqiri should injuries trouble them again.

Mason Greenwood struck a late goal to give Manchester United a 1-0 Premier League win at Wolves on Sunday and ensure the Red Devils set a record for matches unbeaten away from home.

The teenager's right-foot finish settled a tight contest in which Wolves had looked the more dangerous for much of the first hour, David de Gea making one incredible save to keep the scores level in the second half.

United, who handed first starts to Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, grew into the game after toiling early on and eventually took maximum points while making English football league history with a 28th league game without defeat on their travels.

It capped a memorable week for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men, who are set to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club from Juventus in the coming days.

Adama Traore, starting despite speculation linking him with Tottenham, set up Francisco Trincao for the best of the early chances only for De Gea to save well with his feet.

Wolves looked deadly on the break and only a superb goal-line block from Aaron Wan-Bissaka stopped Trincao from rolling in the opening goal, Fred having failed to halt his advances after blocking the ball into his path.

Bruno Fernandes fired the ball into the net from Paul Pogba's ball over the top but the offside flag was raised, as United ended the half without a shot on target.

They finally tested Jose Sa just before the hour mark, Fred's volley kept out after Fernandes had just failed to tee up Greenwood.

United were all over the place when Greenwood lost the ball in attack, Traore rolled it to Trincao 12 yards out, but he miscued his finish and could not even find the target. The United forward then set himself up for a run into the Wolves box with a brilliant touch only for his control to let him down and let the hosts off the hook.

After Traore forced another Wolves corner, De Gea made a remarkable double save to keep out Romain Saiss' header and then stop the defender smashing home the rebound from point-blank range.

It proved a pivotal moment. With 10 minutes remaining, Ruben Neves gave the ball away near his own box and Mike Dean waved away free-kick appeals, Varane fed Greenwood, and the teenager's strike was too powerful for Sa to keep out.

 

What does it mean? Record for United but little to impress Ronaldo

Away fans held aloft a cardboard cut-out of Ronaldo in the first half. There was little to suggest the real-life United attackers on the pitch were posing any more of a goal threat early on.

Seven points from three games is a big improvement on the three they managed last season, but they were given serious tests by Southampton and Wolves and rarely looked in control of either match.

The pressure is on Ronaldo to make a real difference when he returns.

Traore torments United

Whether he will still be a Wolves player after the international break remains to be seen, but fans will certainly hope to see Traore in black and gold again.

He was a menace to United throughout, creating more chances (four) than any other player on the pitch and running the backline ragged.

Sorry Sancho

Sancho's full debut was far from the one he and United fans would have envisaged.

The England winger spent 72 minutes on the pitch, during which time he failed to have a shot or create a chance, while he also lost all six of his contested duels.

What's next?

Following the international break, United will hope to have Ronaldo available for the home game with Newcastle United on September 11. Wolves head to Watford on the same day.

Raphael Varane was handed his Manchester United debut in Sunday's Premier League clash with Wolves, while Jadon Sancho was included in the starting line-up for the first time.

United officially completed the signing of Varane from Real Madrid two weeks ago and the centre-back was an unused substitute in last week's 1-1 draw with Southampton.

Sancho had made two substitute appearances since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, playing a combined 46 minutes in the Red Devils' opening two league games.

Victor Lindelof and Anthony Martial dropped out of the side from the draw at St Mary's to make way for Varane and Sancho respectively.

The omission of Daniel James was the third change made by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with Nemanja Matic coming into the side for the showdown at Molineux.

Paul Pogba once again started and was looking to build on an impressive start to 2021-22 that included five assists in his first two outings – the most by a Premier League player at this stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo will have to wait to make the first appearance of his second spell for United as his high-profile switch from Juventus has yet to officially go through.

Edinson Cavani was in contention to feature for the first time this season at Molineux as a substitute after being given an extended break following his Copa America exertions with Uruguay.

Wolves boss Bruno Lange named the same starting line-up that fell to a 1-0 loss to Tottenham last week, meanwhile, but Willy Boly and Daniel Podence were back among the substitutes.

United had lost just one of their last eight Premier League meetings with Wolves heading into Sunday's contest, going down 2-1 at Molineux in April 2019.

Jadon Sancho would be "buzzing" to take on Lionel Messi and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League but knows he must "step up” his game to reach that same level.

Sancho has joined Manchester United from Borussia Dortmund in one of the biggest deals of the year, although it was dwarfed by Messi's transfer.

After 778 appearances, 672 goals and 265 assists for Barcelona, Messi became a free agent when his only senior club could no longer fit his contract within strict salary restrictions.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner subsequently signed for PSG to form a frightening forward line alongside Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

The trio scored 66 goals in LaLiga and Ligue 1 between them last season, even with Neymar only featuring 18 times, and the French side appear clear favourites for the Champions League.

United winger Sancho certainly recognises the threat but is ready to rise to the challenge, having had 19 goal involvements in 26 Bundesliga outings in 2020-21.

"I use [the Messi move] as a motivation," he told Rio Ferdinand in a BT Sport interview. "PSG are a great side, got great players like Mbappe, Neymar, Messi.

"As a young player, I'm looking at that: woah, that means I need to step up my game, try to show the world that I'm not at that level yet but I can get to that level.

"It's good competition. Every young player should thrive for big games like that.

"If we did ever face them in the Champions League, I would be buzzing, I'd be ready to go. They've got a great side, definitely."

United have their own superstars, though, and Sancho picked out Bruno Fernandes for praise as the Portugal international aims to build on a Premier League campaign that brought 18 goals and 12 assists – his 30 goal involvements seven clear of the next-best midfielder in Europe's top five leagues.

"Bruno, we were on the same team [in training] and linked up really well," Sancho said. "Me and him love winning.

"I'm glad we have the same mindset because it's needed, especially in a big team like this. If you want to win things, you have to learn how to win in training and in matches.

"I think the whole team is a great squad. Speaking to Luke [Shaw] and H [Harry Maguire] and Marcus [Rashford] at the Euros, they were just telling me there's a great bunch of lads.

"I watched some of the games last season and the attack is very good. To be a part of that now is going to be kind of crazy.

"I've seen what Bruno is doing, what Marcus is doing, [Mason] Greenwood, [Edinson] Cavani... to add more goals and assists to that is going to be exciting."

Jadon Sancho will be involved for Manchester United against Leeds United on Saturday but Raphael Varane is not available, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said.

England winger Sancho, a £73.9million (€85m) signing from Borussia Dortmund, has been training this week after struggling with illness following his holiday.

Red Devils manager Solskjaer confirmed Sancho is ready to make his competitive debut against Marcelo Bielsa's men at Old Trafford.

"Jadon is going to be involved," Solskjaer told reporters on Friday. "Unfortunately, he was ill after his holiday, so we lost out on a few days of training, but he's gelled really well with the group. He's going to be involved."

However, centre-back Varane will miss the game as his move from Real Madrid has yet to be finalised.

The France international has been isolating after arriving in England, as per coronavirus protocols, but there are some outstanding matters to resolve before he can be registered as a United player.

"He's not trained with us," Solskjaer said. "Things take time. Unfortunately, with the isolation, the delay, it's not 100 per cent done yet. I can't say he will be involved, I can probably say he won't be.

"It always happens, it's little things. The big hold-up was isolation, quarantine. It'll be done soon."

There have been questions over the involvement of Anthony Martial, who has been linked with a possible move away from United in the transfer window.

The France international missed the final two months of last season with a knee injury but played 45 minutes of the 4-0 friendly win over Everton.

Solskjaer insisted he has no plans to allow the forward to leave despite the reported interest from elsewhere.

"I wouldn't be surprised if other teams targeted Anthony because he's a very good player," he said. "I've got no plans whatsoever for him to play against us.

"He's come back strong, hungry, with a determination to prove his fitness and quality, because last season was a disappointing one for him. He's up for the challenge. He's a Man United player and we're happy to have him. He's proven doubters wrong so many times."

Solskjaer added that there is little update on the future of Paul Pogba, who is in the final year of his contract at United.

"It's been spoken and written about so often," he added. "Every discussion I've had with Paul was a positive one, he knows what we want and hopefully he keeps on in the background and they make decisions. It'll always be like with this with Paul; he's a media magnet."

The new Premier League season has not even begun yet and we're already enjoying some enthralling narratives.

Beyond the mundane matter of who might win the league, who will beat the drop and how thick the VAR lines will be, there are some tantalising stories we'll be following closely in the coming weeks.

Below, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the big talking points...

 

Blue Benitez

Predicting football is often a fool's game – especially in an era when Lionel Messi no longer plays for Barcelona – but Rafael Benitez at Everton? Who saw that coming?

The Spaniard is back in the Premier League, two years after walking away from Newcastle United, having been tempted by the same project that won over Carlo Ancelotti before the lure of a Real Madrid return became too great.

Benitez was a fans' favourite at Newcastle, arguably as much as he was at Liverpool, where he reached two Champions League finals including the unforgettable triumph in Istanbul. His connection to the red half of Merseyside meant his decision to head to Goodison Park raised the eyebrows of some and the blood pressure of others. In fact, only one man has ever managed both clubs: William Edward Barclay, Everton's first boss in 1888 and Liverpool's manager from 1892. We'll forgive you if you don't remember.

The scrutiny on Benitez, who has recorded 11 wins against Everton in his coaching career, will be severe. He has the credentials, but if he cannot quickly prove he is the man to realise the dreams of owner Farhad Moshiri and challenge the 'big six', the pressure could become pretty uncomfortable.

 

Virgil return lifts Reds

For a while, it seemed everything would be okay. In the first 11 games after Virgil van Dijk was injured against Everton last October, Liverpool conceded just six goals and kept as many clean sheets. Perhaps the loss of the Netherlands colossus would not be quite so damaging.

Of course, as injuries in defence piled up and confidence in their title chances waned, Liverpool's season ended up being one of major disappointment even though a strong final few weeks saw them snatch a Champions League spot.

Van Dijk's impact cannot really be disputed: since his move to Anfield in January 2018, Liverpool have won 75.8 per cent of matches with the centre-back in the side and only 54.3 per cent without him. They average 2.4 points per game with him (compared with 1.9 without), and even score more goals on average (2.3 compared with 1.8) when he's playing. No wonder fans began to count down the days to his return.

On Saturday, we can finally expect to watch Van Dijk in competitive action again, with Jurgen Klopp confirming he is fit to start the season. He could even begin his partnership with new signing Ibrahima Konate against Norwich City at Carrow Road. How Liverpool's campaign progresses over the opening few weeks, and how Van Dijk's return goes, might just tell us whether another title tilt is on the cards.

 

Rom-ember us?

Two of the biggest transfers in this pre-season have seen stars returning to England: Jadon Sancho, who finally got his Manchester United move for £72.9million a year after Borussia Dortmund had demanded a sizeably bigger sum; and Romelu Lukaku, who is heading to Chelsea for roughly £93m.

Sancho left Manchester City for the Bundesliga as a teenager and promptly became one of Europe's standout attacking players, with 50 goals and 57 assists in 137 appearances. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a player to get fans on their feet, and he's almost certainly found it: Sancho completed 48 multi take-ons (beating more than one player with a dribble) in the Bundesliga, at least 14 more than any other player in his time in Germany.

For Lukaku, it's a case of unfinished business at Chelsea, the club he left back in 2014. The standout performer for Inter last season, with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, he propelled his side to their first Serie A title since 2010 before taking up the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, where a consistent goalscorer could be decisive to their Premier League title hopes.

Sancho and Lukaku initially struggled to convince managers to give them a shot as youngsters in the Premier League. They return as elite players determined to prove a point. Given the costs involved, the pressure will be on both to perform – and quickly.

 

Did Jack hammer Harry's City hopes?

Manchester City are not exactly frugal in the transfer market, but rarely will they willingly pay over the odds for an individual. That's what made their willingness to spend £100million on Jack Grealish, a player with 12 senior international caps and zero Champions League experience, a touch surprising.

This is not to suggest Grealish is not a good player, of course. This is a man who was involved in a remarkable 376 open-play attacking sequences over the past two seasons for Aston Villa, a team who finished 17th and 11th in those campaigns. It's just notable that Pep Guardiola felt it was warranted to smash City's transfer record by nearly £40m to sign yet another midfielder, especially given what's going on – or not going on – with Harry Kane.

Kane was expected to be City's marquee signing in this window but, as of now, his future is unclear. He is finally due to return to Tottenham training this week but whether he is involved against City in their opening game is harder to know. And if City were willing to spend nine figures on Grealish, you can expect Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to demand top dollar for last term's golden boot winner, who has three years left on his contract.

Will City stump up the cash? Will Kane try his best to force Spurs' hand? Will he be staying in north London for at least a few months more, his form undimmed, the goals flowing as normal? It will be fascinating to watch.

 

The new Premier League season is on the horizon and there are plenty of exciting new signings to keep an eye on.

Jack Grealish has moved within the league for a record £100million fee, while a familiar face in Romelu Lukaku is set to return to England's top flight.

Premier League fans can also look forward to watching plenty of new stars, though.

Stats Perform picks out four exciting additions...
 

Jadon Sancho

An England international who has never played in English football, Sancho will garner plenty of attention at Manchester United this season – and rightly so.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Sancho has the joint-most goal involvements among English players in Europe's top five leagues, his 78 matched by Three Lions captain Harry Kane.

Those involvements arrived once every 87 minutes on average and included 41 assists, trailing only Thomas Muller (48) and Lionel Messi (43) in that regard.

Sancho left Borussia Dortmund on a high with May's DFB-Pokal final triumph, but the 2019-20 campaign was arguably his best.

The winger had 17 goals and 16 assists in the league; over the past 10 seasons, only Eden Hazard, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez have also tallied at least 15 goals and 15 assists in the same season.

And Sancho now joins a United side who last term already had six players with 10 or more goal involvements in all competitions (Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba).

Patson Daka

Leicester City have now firmly established themselves as one of the leading clubs in the Premier League, but Jamie Vardy's advancing years had provided a worry on the horizon. The Foxes great has been a key man for so long.

But there were signs of Leicester moving on from their reliance on Vardy last season as Kelechi Iheanacho scored 12 times in the Premier League.

Now, the arrival of Daka could really put Vardy's place under pressure.

The Zambia forward scored 27 goals in 28 league games for Salzburg in 2020-21, adding four assists for a remarkable goal involvement every 63 minutes. By comparison, Vardy delivered every 119 minutes and Iheanacho every 104 minutes.

Despite playing fewer minutes, Daka (101) attempted significantly more shots than Vardy (82) and scored with a greater share of them, too (26.7 per cent versus 18.3 per cent).

Still just 22, Daka looks a great fit for the veteran Vardy's role, taking a comparable 19 per cent of his touches last season in the penalty area (23 per cent for Vardy).

Cristian Romero

The Kane transfer saga is providing an unhelpful distraction, but Tottenham are making moves, bringing in Bryan Gil and Pierluigi Gollini alongside Romero.

The centre-back should be suited to the Premier League, having established himself as one of the most aggressive, physically dominant defenders in Serie A.

Romero ranked ninth among all Serie A players for aerial duel success last season (68 per cent), putting him ahead of the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Matthijs de Ligt.

This was particularly impressive as only 15 players contested more aerial duels per 90 than Romero (5.9).

The Argentina international – who has joined from Atalanta on an initial loan – is an impressive defender on the ground, too, making 3.4 interceptions per 90 to rank second in the division.

He should bolster a Spurs defence now without Toby Alderweireld.

Raphael Varane

There are no shortage of centre-back signings in the Premier League. Ibrahima Konate has arrived at Liverpool but faces a fight to be first choice. The same is not true of Varane.

United hope the World Cup winner can team up with Harry Maguire to make Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side genuine title contenders.

Like Romero, Varane is dominant in the air, leading LaLiga defenders with his 76 per cent success rate in aerial duels last season.

That is an area of need for United, too, as only Leeds United (15) conceded more goals from set-pieces last season excluding penalties than the Red Devils (14).

United conceded a league-high 32 per cent of their goals against in this fashion.

And Varane will also look to set Sancho and Co on their way, having initiated 22 open play sequences that ended with a shot in 2020-21 – behind only Clement Lenglet (24) among LaLiga centre-backs.

Raphael Varane is expected to formally complete his transfer to Manchester United in the coming days as he waits to undergo a medical.

United reached an agreement to sign the centre-back from Real Madrid last month, with the deal reportedly worth £42.7million (€50m).

Varane, who was in action with France at Euro 2020, said farewell to his former Madrid team-mates at the end of July, but could not complete a medical until he had isolated upon his arrival in the United Kingdom, due to current COVID-19 travel restrictions.

With both Varane and fellow new arrival Jadon Sancho absent, United still cruised to a 4-0 rout of Everton in their final pre-season friendly before kicking off their Premier League campaign against Leeds United next week.

And Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed Varane's deal will be finalised as soon as the 28-year-old has completed his period in quarantine.

"With Raphael, the medical has to be done. He's isolating at the moment," Solskjaer told reporters after the win over Everton.

"He had to wait for visas, so unfortunately that took a few more days than expected but we've got to follow the protocols and the rules."

Solskjaer also revealed Sancho, who has been given an extended break after helping England to the Euro 2020 final, will report for training on Monday, so could be in contention to face Leeds.

"Jadon is in on Monday, hopefully in decent nick and he can be involved," Solskjaer added.

Mason Greenwood, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot were on target against Everton.

United's preparations for the game were hindered somewhat by a coronavirus outbreak within the squad, leading to the cancellation of a planned friendly against Preston North End last week.

Jesse Lingard has tested positive and is a doubt to face Leeds, while United are taking a cautious approach with Dean Henderson.

The goalkeeper has missed the entirety of United's pre-season after testing positive for COVID-19 following his return to training and though he no longer has the illness, Henderson is still suffering from the after-effects.

"Jesse feels okay, hopefully it'll stay that way," Solskjaer said. "But when you get a positive test you've just got to isolate even if you feel well.

"Dean was positive early on. He's negative in his testing but he has not felt as energised and sharp as he normally has done, so he still feels fatigued and is feeling the after-effects.

"You never know. You've seen so many effects of this virus, he's still got a few days to rest and then we'll check up on him."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer understands the expectations at Old Trafford as well as anyone, and the Manchester United manager is leaning into them with the start of the season just over a week away. 

Now ready to move past a campaign that saw United finish a distant second to Manchester City in the league and fall to Villarreal in the Europa League final, Solskjaer is pleased with club's two key additions in the transfer window and optimistic about their chances this time around. 

With higher expectations comes more pressure, but after seeing his contract extended last month, Solskjaer is confident the club are on the right path. 

"You feel under pressure all the time," Solskjaer told ESPN. "At this club, with this responsibility, it's not just clinging onto your job; it's about the responsibility that's in my hands.

"We've got millions of fans, the players, the club, the staff... and the responsibility is on getting results. As long as you get results and improve, that's what I felt that we've improved all the time. As long as you can see improvement.

"We've gone from third to second [in the Premier League] and a lot closer in points, we've gone from three semi-finals to a final and one kick away from winning so it's about taking the next step now. That's the challenge."

Solskjaer said he expects United to enter the final month of the season in contention for their first league title since 2013 and hopefully deep into another cup run as well. 

After adding Jadon Sancho and agreeing a deal in principal for Raphael Varane, the manager believes United can move past Manchester City with "maximum effort, maximum season and maximum sacrifice" from everyone at Old Trafford. 

Even that would not guarantee a trophy, particularly given the level of competition. 

"For me, it feels like this season coming up is one of the strongest Premier League seasons," he said.

"Of course it's been City and Liverpool fighting it out for a few years. I feel us and Chelsea have spent well and worked well and we should look at ourselves as potential challengers, but it's potential.

"The first game is the most important, then the first block of games, and then keeping that momentum."

After a slow start to the last Premier League campaign, Solskjaer is counting on United getting out of the gate at a better pace, particularly once Sancho and Varane are integrated into the squad. 

While the high-profile newcomers will be the centre of attention early on, Solskjaer is pleased that the dressing room is full of players he believes are ready to handle the unique challenges of playing for United. 

"We want to be successful," he said. "We want to start winning trophies and we've laid the foundation, and I feel now that the foundation has been laid on the training ground, in the transfer market and with the work that the coaches and the staff that everyone has been doing with the players.

"I think we've made [the players] more robust and ready to face the challenges of a Man United player. That's not the same as playing in any other team and I think everyone that's been here or arrived here, they know the demands and expectations are higher."

Solskjaer singled out the addition of Edinson Cavani to the mix as a key factor in building that atmosphere, saying the Uruguayan has "shown the way for many" in his time with the club.

He also thought back to his own former team-mates like Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Gary Neville as players who embraced the situation.

"There are so many good players out there, but some of them don't handle the pressure," he said. "Some do. Some thrive under pressure, some enjoy it. ...

"You have to enjoy it -- if you don't enjoy being a Man United player, you can play somewhere mid-table."

Pep Guardiola's quest to conquer Europe and continue domestic domination with Manchester City has seen him sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish in a deal reportedly worth £100million.

Grealish becomes the most expensive signing in Premier League history after being prised away from Villa Park, where he had spent his entire career and captained his boyhood club since 2019.

The England international, who helped the Three Lions to a first major final appearance in 55 years at Euro 2020, has regularly been linked away from Villa but committed his future after rumoured interest from Manchester United, signing a long-term contract in 2020.

In the 2020-21 campaign, the 25-year old contributed with six league goals and 10 assists, while also creating 81 chances across 26 appearances for the Villains.

Dean Smith will no longer have the playmaker to call upon, though, as Guardiola has demolished the previous Premier League transfer record – set by Paul Pogba's return to United in 2016 – to secure Grealish's services.

After City's record-breaking acquisition of Grealish, Stats Perform looks at the other most expensive signings in English top-flight history.

PAUL POGBA – Juventus to Manchester United, £89.3m

Jose Mourinho's first transfer window with the Red Devils saw the France midfielder return to Old Trafford in a then-world record transfer.

Since making that reunion in 2016-17, only Marcus Rashford (78) and Anthony Martial (64) have been involved in more Premier League goals for United than Pogba (57 – 28 goals, 29 assists), while the midfielder has created more top-flight chances (207) than any other player for the club during this period.

He scored and assisted one apiece for France at Euro 2020, while only Antoine Griezmann (10) created more chances than Pogba's eight for Les Bleus.

HARRY MAGUIRE – Leicester City to Manchester United £80m

United broke the world transfer record for a defender in 2002 when they signed Rio Ferdinand for £30m and 17 years later they acquired Maguire for more than double that fee.

The centre-back endured a tricky start to life in Manchester, however, his quality eventually shone through as he strung together 71 consecutive appearances for United.

Despite missing the last four games of the 2020-21 campaign, Maguire ranked second in the Premier League for aerial challenges won (135) and fifth for successful duels (203) before featuring prominently at Euro 2020 for England.

 

VIRGIL VAN DIJK – Southampton to Liverpool, £75m

Jurgen Klopp, albeit under contentious circumstances, convinced Van Dijk to move away from St. Mary's Stadium in December 2017.

The commanding Netherlands captain guided Liverpool to their sixth Champions League success in 2018-19 before playing a key role as the Reds ended their 30-year wait for an English title.

Van Dijk's absence severely affected their Premier League defence last term. Klopp's men have won 75.8 per cent of their league matches with Van Dijk in the side since his debut in January 2018, a figure that falls to 54.3 per cent in his absence.

 

ROMELU LUKAKU – Everton to Manchester United £75m

The Belgium forward never settled in at Old Trafford and left after two seasons, despite converting 42 times in 96 games for United.

Lukaku scored twice in United's stunning Champions League last-16 comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 before completing a switch to Inter, where he helped Antonio Conte's men to their first Scudetto since 2009-10.

During the title-winning campaign, Lukaku shunned doubts over his finishing as he converted almost one in four chances to bag 24 goals and improved his link-up play to form an effective partnership with Lautaro Martinez. Since his Inter debut only five players have scored more goals in Europe's top five leagues than Lukaku (64).

He has now been linked with a return to former club Chelsea in a deal which could shatter Grealish's new record.

 

JADON SANCHO – Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United £73m

After leaving Manchester City in 2017 for Borussia Dortmund, Sancho found himself signing for the red half of Manchester four years later. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pursued Sancho for multiple transfer windows and finally got his man in the wake of England's Euro 2020 shoot-out heartbreak.

Since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, the 21-year-old has been directly involved in the joint-most goals of any English player across the top five European leagues (78), while he has played fewer minutes than Harry Kane – also on 78 – in this period.

Sancho also became the first Englishman to reach at least 10 assists for three consecutive seasons in Europe's top-five leagues since David Beckham, who achieved the feat between 1997-98 and 2000-01 for Alex Ferguson's United.

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