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Scott McTominay, left, of Manchester United will be a key factor for the team if it's too improve its Premier League play. (Tony McDonough/AAP Image via AP)
Scott McTominay, left, of Manchester United will be a key factor for the team if it's too improve its Premier League play. (Tony McDonough/AAP Image via AP)|Associated Press
Soccer

Sean Miller's Manchester United preview and predictions for 2019-20: Can Red Devils get back into Champions League? Top Reds weigh in

The season starts Sunday, at home, against Chelsea at 11:30 am EDT.

Sean Miller

Sean Miller

In the past, the week before the opening Manchester United match of the season was one of the best periods of the year.

The anticipation of the new season would overwhelm my senses, getting ready to watch my club get out on the pitch for the first time in search of another piece of silverware or three. Many times, United would play in the F.A. Community Shield, which meant that the club would play before almost all of the other Premier League teams.

Three times since Sir Alex left, I traveled to Manchester for the first three weeks of the season, to be there for all of the opening games, home and away. I was at Old Trafford for a milestone birthday at the start of the Van Gaal era, after there was so much optimism once David Moyes left, and LVG led the Red Devils to an International Champions Cup final rout of Liverpool in Miami.

When United lost 2-1 to Swansea City on the opening day of the campaign, it put a damper on my birthday celebrations. In the next few weeks, United went on to draw 1-1 with Sunderland, lose 4-0 to M.K. Dons in the Capital One Cup (a match I watched in my hotel room in Amsterdam), and play out a lifeless 0-0 draw away to Burnley. That was the final match I attended on that trip, and I flew back home angry that my team was terrible.

I returned to Manchester the next year for the start of the season, and watched the Red Devils beat Tottenham 1-0, then head to Aston Villa and win 1-0 on a Friday night in Birmingham because of a march in town. The highlight of my trip was the two UEFA Champions League matches with Brugge. But on my last night in town, once again, LVG and Swansea conspired to make my flight home miserable, after a 2-1 loss at the Liberty Stadium in my first visit to Wales.

Those games, though just four years ago, might as well be decades. The week before the season has now turned into a transfer watch, or non-watch, as this year has proved to be.

The transfer window closes the day before the first match of the Premier League season in England, and all anyone wants to talk about is the signings, or lack thereof, made by Ed Woodward and United. Or the net spend of the club, which by the time the window closes will not be very much for a team of United's supposed size.

Why didn't the club get a midfielder? Why is the deadwood still here? Who is going to score the goals?

These are all valid questions. But they used to be asked three weeks into the new campaign, when there were already a few matches to get everyone's minds off the transfer market, and put the spotlight on the thing that really counts here: the football.

The actual matches are what people should care about with United, but that has taken a backseat for many to everything else that surrounds the club.

There is really just one question that should be asked right now, a few days before United hosts Chelsea in the final match of the opening weekend.

How will this season play out for the Red Devils?

It is tough to say, because there is so much negativity around the club right now, which is the last thing a team that has a group of young players that will have to play significant minutes needs. Arsenal and Tottenham have improved significantly in areas, and will be the teams United will chase for top four.

United definitely improved at the back with Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan Bissaka, solving two glaring holes. That immediately makes the Red Devils better. The lack of signings ahead of the defense means that players like Tahith Chong, James Garner, Angel Gomes, and Mason Greenwood will get their shots to jump into the first team for good. The Manchester United youth system is definitely a strong point of the club right now and getting stronger every day, with additions of a much sought-after player like Hannibal Mejbri from Lyon, the club's fourth signing of the window. For years, everyone talked about bringing the kids through to the first team: now, they will get their chance, so do not complain when they make mistakes.

There will be some growing pains with this team in 2019-20, and key players will need to stay healthy for most of the season. The new high press should help the team pick up some points, and it reminds me of a certain team from the west that struggled for years until a coach came in and put them on the path to the top.

United fans just watched their main rivals scoop up every trophy on offer domestically and continentally, and basically run circles around the rest of the league. While City and Liverpool took home major silverware, Tottenham made the Champions League final, while Chelsea beat Arsenal for the Europa League title. Last season really was dark for United supporters.

I think there is a better chance United finishes seventh this season than third, with the improvements made by some of the clubs behind United in the standings last season. But that fourth spot is clearly up for the taking; can Manchester United grab it and return to the top four?

Manchester United opens Sunday at home against Chelsea (11:30 a.m. EDT, NBC Sports and Fubo.tv).

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PREDICTIONS FOR 2019-2020 PREMIER LEAGUE

Sean Miller (@TheProdigalSean)

Premier League top four:

1. Manchester City

2. Tottenham

3. Liverpool

4. Arsenal

How Manchester United will finish in its competitions:

Premier League: fifth

UEFA Europa League: champions

F.A. Cup: fifth round (winners,Tottenham)

Carabao Cup: semifinals (winners, Manchester City)

PREDICTIONS FROM TWITTER TOP REDS

Cass (@DrCassOle)

These are my predictions (and hopes) for this season: a well defined approach is translated from preseason into the regular season (well defined, but not dogmatic), players are properly coached and show consistent improvements, Tuanzebe, Gomes and Greenwood would get slowly but surely integrated into the first team, and finally more luck with injuries.

Premier League top four:

1. Manchester City

2. Tottenham

3. Liverpool

4. Arsenal

How United will finish in its competitions:

Premier League: fifth

UEFA Europa League: winners (I hope)

F.A. Cup: quarterfinals

Carabao Cup: semifinals

Gus (@_GusMUFC3)

I’m both optimistic and pessimistic; optimistic in the sense of Ole's approach to things like tactics/fitness levels etc. As I said when Jose Mourinho got sacked, the next manager must play attractive, attacking football, which I believe Ole wants to do. It has been six years of defensive tactics, and we need an attacking/entertaining approach.

I’m also extremely happy with our business done. As I said at the start of the window, we should be addressing our defense first, because you build from the back, and I reckon our back four is now third best in the league.

However, I’m pessimistic due to other areas of the pitch that clearly needed to be addressed. We needed two new midfielders, and it looks like we won’t get any, which is shocking considering it’s now weakened from last year as Herrera has left. If Pogba gets injured, our midfield is done. We also needed a new right winger, and the day Mata signed a new contract is when I lost hope we would sign one. Hopefully James has a good run of games on the right or Greenwood breaks through.

Premier League top four:

1. Manchester City

2. Tottenham

3. Liverpool

4. Arsenal

How United will finish in its competitions:

Premier League: fourth (optimistic)

UEFA Europa League: won’t win

F.A. Cup: winners

Carabao Cup: won’t win

Alex (@AlexJTB_)

I'm normally a pessimist, but I'm feeling weirdly optimistic. Our defense has been improved a lot, and I think a lot of people underestimate our attacking players. Midfield is the big issue besides Pogba, and I thought central midfield should have been our second priority after right back. So our season really depends on whether McTominay and Fred can step up. McTominay has looked promising in pre-season and I hope he keeps that up.

Surprise player has to be Greenwood. He'll play a lot of games at right wing because we don't have many options there, he's obviously hugely talented and I back Ole to coach young strikers well.

How United will finish in its competitions:

Premier League: fourth

UEFA Europa League: champions

F.A. Cup: quarterfinals

Carabao Cup: quarterfinals

CR (SolskCR1)

How United will finish in its competitions:

Premier League: winner (PL record 114 points)

UEFA Europa League: winner

F.A. Cup: winner

Carabao Cup: winner

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