When Erik ten Hag started working at Manchester United before last season had even finished, his intention was to earn himself a head start in preparing for his first campaign in the Old Trafford dugout.
That has not proved to be the case. It is now less than two weeks before United get underway in the Premier League against Brighton and there are still several problems plaguing the Dutchman.
Most prominently, it’s fair to say that things have not gone completely 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 agree deals for other targets and have been rocked by superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo demanding to leave.
Sportsmail: takes a look at the issues still facing the Red Devils and assesses how the team could look against Brighton on August 7.
Things have not gone to plan for Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag in the transfer market
Cristiano Ronaldo wants out
It is proving to be the biggest transfer saga of the summer and one that Ten Hag could certainly do without.
Ronaldo has told United that he wishes to leave the club, as he feels that he cannot compete for the biggest trophies while at Old Trafford.
The 37-year-old only checked in to Carrington for the first time in pre-season on Tuesday, having missed the previous three weeks – including the entire tour of Thailand and Australia – after being given compassionate leave for a family issue.
Superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo has told United that he wishes to leave this summer
Crunch talks are continuing to take place over Ronaldo’s future, involving Ten Hag, United chief executive Richard Arnold and the forward’s agent Jorge Mendes.
Ten Hag has generally remained tight-lipped on the saga, but has reiterated that 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 is of course fine by United who want him to stay, but they could be left with a very unhappy superstar if Ronaldo is still at the club on September 2.
The 37-year-old checked in to Carrington on Tuesday for the first time in pre-season
Frenkie de Jong rejecting a move
While Ronaldo wants out, United are struggling to convince Frenkie de Jong to move in at Old Trafford.
The Dutch midfielder is one of Ten Hag’s priority targets this summer, as he was the jewel in the crown while 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 raft of new signings including Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha.
Frenkie de Jong has reportedly told Manchester United that he will not be moving to the club
United have agreed a £63 million fee for the 25-year-old, but the problem comes with De Jong himself who is not keen on the switch.
According to Cadena SER, he has told his Barcelona teammates and United’s hierarchy that he will not be moving to Old Trafford this summer.
Part of the reason for that is Barca still owes the Dutchman £17 million in wages, which United will be urging them to pay up.
The Red Devils won’t give up the chase for De Jong, even if it takes until after the new season starts. Ten Hag has made it clear that the midfielder is central to his plans, so United chiefs Richard Arnold and John Murtough will make every attempt to get the deal done.
Ten Hag has made the midfielder, whom he managed at Ajax, one of his priority transfer targets
Ajax bumping up Antony’s price tag
Ten Hag has already raided his former club Ajax for one player in Lisandro Martinez, but he is keen on making it a double by signing Brazilian winger Antony.
The problem is that the Eredivisie champions insist that the 22-year-old is not for sale after he contributed 12 goals and 10 assists in all competitions last season.
To underline their message, Ajax have increased Antony’s price tag from £68 million to £84 million – which means United would have to make him their second most expensive signing of all time behind Paul Pogba.
It is a significant blow for Ten Hag, who has yet to add to his frontline since arriving at Old Trafford.
The winger’s representatives were in Manchester earlier this month for talks with United’s hierarchy, but Ajax’s stance is making the deal increasingly difficult to complete.
Ajax have increased the price tag of winger Antony from £68 million to £84 million
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 charges De Jong and Antony.
All three would likely go in his starting line-up. De Jong bolstering the midfield, Antony slotting in on the right wing and Ronaldo up front looking to add to his 24 goals last season.
There are unlikely to be any more new signings in defense, which is the one area that Ten Hag can confidently plan ahead of the new season.
David De Gea will start his 12th campaign in-between the sticks for United, while Diogo Dalot and Harry Maguire should keep their places at right-back and center-back respectively.
Of course there are question marks over Maguire’s place as he was dropped by Ralf Rangnick last season following several poor performances, but the England defender has retained the captaincy under Ten Hag.
Harry Maguire has retained the captaincy under Ten Hag but still has to fight for his place
The Dutchman praised Maguire in pre-season but also warned that he will have to fight to keep his place like any other player.
One thing that could help Maguire is £55 million new arrival Lisandro Martinez coming in alongside him at left centre-back, allowing the former Leicester man to move over to a more natural right-sided role.
Fellow new boy Tyrell Malacia will likely complete the back four at left-back ahead of Luke Shaw.
Fred has enjoyed an impressive pre-season and would be favorite to keep his spot in midfield instead of Scott McTominay should De Jong arrive, while Bruno Fernandes is one of the first names on the team sheet.
Completing a menacing-looking front three alongside Antony and Ronaldo would be Jadon Sancho, who will be hoping to improve upon an underwhelming first season at Old Trafford.
How United could line up against Brighton if things go Erik ten Hag’s way in the transfer market
How United could line up if things don’t go Ten Hag’s way
Of course this all sounds far too simple. The likelihood of De Jong, Antony and Ronaldo all starting against Brighton seems pretty pie in the sky at this moment in time.
Without them, United will undoubtedly look weaker. Mainly because they would be stuck with players who contributed towards their worst ever Premier League points tally last season.
In midfield, Scott McTominay would likely restore his partnership with Fred despite the arrival of Christian Eriksen.
New arrival Christian Eriksen will not be guaranteed a starting spot in United’s midfield
The Danish international, who has signed a three-year deal at Old Trafford, scored on his unofficial debut in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Wrexham on Wednesday but it is difficult to see a spot in the starting line-up for him given he is an attacking midfield option like Fernandes.
Upfront, Anthony Martial has been rejuvenated under Erik Ten Hag and has scored three goals in four games in pre-season, but the Frenchman would not be able to replicate the goal output of Ronaldo throughout a whole campaign.
It is no surprise that United are monitoring a number of striker targets in the event that the Portuguese superstar leaves, with Red Bull Salzburg’s Benjamin Sesko and Victor Osimhen of Napoli reportedly on their radar.
Without Antony on the wing, there would be a reprieve for Marcus Rashford – another player who desperately underperformed last season who will be eager to prove his worth.
How the Red Devils might start against the Seagulls if things don’t go the Dutchman’s way