Manchester United have been handed a fixture advantage over Man City by the Premier League

 Most of the Man Utd starting XI are still away on holiday and their pre-season plans are being disrupted as a result of the summer tournaments.


When Manchester United face Queens Park Rangers on Saturday there will be just three weeks until they kick off the Premier League season against Leeds, but of the 27 players available this weekend only three are likely starters come August 14.

The double whammy of a tournament summer that saw players feature in the European Championship and Copa America has given United a very staggered pre-season schedule and it's likely the full squad will get little more than a week of training together before hostilities commence against Leeds.

Of the squad training at Pennyhill Park in Surrey this week only Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay and Mason Greenwood are likely starters on the first day of the season. The rest of the group is made of youngsters, fringe players and those whose futures probably lie away from Old Trafford, only for now they're needed to make up the numbers.

If we're looking at a likely United XI to face their rivals from across the Pennines then it's probably something like: De Gea/Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Varane/Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay/Fred, Pogba, Fernandes; Sancho, Greenwood, Cavani.

There's caveats there depending on signings and system but many of those players are still yet to return to Carrington. Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes are due back in the next 10 days or so, as is Victor Lindelof, while Raphael Varane is dependant on whether United can agree a deal to sign him and how soon that gets done.

David de Gea and Dean Henderson should both be available within the next couple of weeks and Edinson Cavani is due back soon after his exploits with Uruguay in the Copa America, but Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Fred and Jadon Sancho are still on holiday for another couple of weeks after reaching the final of their respective tournaments.

That might mean United's strongest XI only has one pre-season run out, against Everton on August 7, and with that being the only game for some players it might be that they only get 45 minutes to an hour.

So for the second season in a row United might begin the new campaign a little undercooked and working their way to full fitness. It cost them a year ago, when they lost three of their first six league games, including a disastrous opening day defeat by Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.

That setback against the Eagles should act as a warning, but United have a stronger squad than a year ago and they have been handed an advantage by the Premier League fixture computer and have to take full advantage.

While an opening day clash with Leeds will certainly be tasty, United beat them 6-2 at Old Trafford last season and should be spurred on by the return of a capacity crowd.

After the game comes trips to Southampton and Wolves, an Old Trafford date with Newcastle, an away game at West Ham and then home clashes with Aston Villa and Everton. There are banana skins in that fixture list but nothing too strenuous.

Manchester City, on the other hand, face Tottenham, Arsenal, Leicester and Chelsea inside their opening six league games of the campaign.

United are approaching this transfer window with the kind of ambition that suggests they want a title challenge this season, which in this era usually demands winning at least 30 of your 38 Premier League fixtures, so slow starts simply can't be tolerated.

Pre-season isn't being kind to United in terms of players returning, but that should be offset by a fixture list that they have to take advantage of in the early weeks of the campaign.

Source: manchestereveningnews.co.uk

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