Manchester United's obvious transfer priority to give Erik ten Hag pre-season boost

Manchester United's sizeable Norwegian following got what they thought was an early bonus in pre-season a year ago. On that occasion, Erik ten Hag's side touched down in Oslo for their first pre-season friendly with a new face to show off.

Mason Mount played 45 minutes in that 2-0 win against Leeds United, fresh off a £55m move from Chelsea. Little did we know then that his first season at Old Trafford would lead to such disappointment.

Other than the presence of Mount, it was a pick-and-mix group of players, with a sprinkling of stardust from the likes of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane. There was also a start in midfield along the more established players for Kobbie Mainoo, yet to seal his breakthrough.

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The point is, the first forays into competitive action in pre-season are usually quiet affairs. Last year the June internationals delayed the return of many first-teamers, this summer it will be the European Championship and Copa America that will keep players on the beaches for longer.

United have seven players through to the knockout stage of Euro 2024 and even if England, Denmark, Portugal or Turkey go out this weekend, those players are unlikely to return to pre-season training until the third week of July, at the earliest. Martinez, Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri are still tied up on Copa America duty.

There should be plenty of star power on show for the first friendly of this summer, back in Norway, when United face Rosenborg in Trondheim the day after the Euro 2024 final. Andre Onana, Harry Maguire, Casemiro, Mount, Marcus Rashford, Amad and Antony have all had the summer off for one reason or another.

Maybe those Norwegian Reds will get to see another new signing in action as well. Every manager likes to have new arrivals in as early as possible in pre-season and although Ten Hag is finalising a contract extension with Ineos at the moment, as well as agreeing to changes to his coaching staff, he will want progress made on transfers.

United's priority is down the spine for now, with recruitment likely at centre-back, central midfield and striker. They have had a £43m bid turned down by Everton for Jarrad Branthwaite, are interested in Paris St-Germain holding midfielder Manuel Ugarte and could activate the release clause of Bologna striker Joshua Zirkee.

Of that trio, Ugarte and Zirkzee are in action for Uruguay and the Netherlands, so even if they signed they will only link up for pre-season around three weeks after their tournaments come to an end. That could make Branthwaite a priority and the most likely new face to be visible in Trondheim.

Branthwaite is earmarked as the replacement for Varane, who is leaving at the end of his contract this weekend, and after all the disruption at the heart of defence last season, Ten Hag will want to get the 21-year-old in as quickly as possible and allow him to start developing relationships with those around him.

That will require a breakthrough in negotiations with Everton, who continue to stick to a £70m asking price, while United are reluctant to return with an offer unless there is a signal from Goodison that they are willing to compromise.

Everton's financial concerns and United's desire to sign the player still make it likely this is a deal that will eventually get done. If United can get it over the line in the next week or so, then Branthwaite will get the benefit of a full pre-season to get settled in.