“I think they’ll be frightening. Marcus is only going to get stronger and better. He’s been on a quick learning curve and already found himself a marked man in the Premier League. But he’s very grounded and won’t get ahead of himself and the pace of the two of them will give defenders an awful lot to think about. There is a suggestion that Jose might play the two up front and that’s something the fans at Old Trafford would love to see because them two would really be a handful.”
With Alexandre Lacazette moving to the Emirates, and Alvaro Morata switching to Stamford Bridge already this summer, United, Arsenal and Chelsea have spent a whopping £190m on strikers between them. When asked to pick out the best signing of the trio, Pallister has no hesitation in picking the burly Belgian.
“I’m going to say Lukaku because he is proven in the Premiership. The other guys come over to the Premier League and the pace and power is different, but Lukaku has done it regularly for West Brom and Everton. He is a proven Premier League goal-scorer, and I think that’s why Jose gave up on Morata. Lukaku is very bullish, brash and quick. He’ll mess defenders about.”
There is no questioning the 24 year old’s physical attributes or indeed his scoring prowess but an awful lot of pressure comes attached with a £75m fee. Is there a need for the striker to score early, and lay any doubts immediately to rest?
“I’ve got to say that you never know how players will settle in at Manchester United as it’s a different animal altogether from Everton, even probably Chelsea. The level of expectation at United exceeds both of those clubs. He’s got to get used to that. When you go for that fee, everybody expects you to hit the ground running and be an instant hit, but it didn’t happen to Pogba last year and I’m sure if Lukaku doesn’t score in his first few games, the critics will be on his back.”
“He’s a great piece of business though and will bring more dynamism to this United side and more physicality. Rashford, Mata and Lingard are all good players, but haven’t got the power to worry defenders. Lukaka has that in abundance.”
He also has the benefit of being good friends with a new team-mate who has been there, seen that, and worn the shirt with a huge price tag on it. Having already alluded to Paul Pogba’s relative struggles last season does Pallister think it might help Lukaku to have a mate on the pitch to share the burden of expectation with?
“I think it’s great and we’ve seen their friendship on social media playing basketball together and training together. That can only be a positive for the team and the players themselves. Paul had his critics when he joined due to the price tag and it was a tough season for him. I think we’ll see a better Paul Pogba this year, the one that we saw for France against England. He’s obviously full of quality and a big personality but finding a level of consistency last year was the tough part, along with dealing with all of the expectation. He’s going to have a massive season.”
When talk turns to United’s other big signing – the towering Swede Victor Lindelof – the former defender who won four Premier League titles at Old Trafford becomes more circumspect, claiming that a first team spot is anything but guaranteed.
“Maybe Lindelof has been brought in as first choice but that’s not always the case. Chris (Smalling) or Phil (Jones) can put in performances and all that changes. We saw that with Mkhitaryan where it took five months before he got into the first team and began proving himself on a regular basis. Who is to say that won’t happen with Lindelof? It’s not just about how you play but how you are in training and around the place.”
It is not only in central defence that competition for places is expected to be fierce this coming season, and the player fondly known as ‘Pally’ to team-mates and fans alike has been greatly encouraged at the progress made by several youngsters pushing for regular selection. With Jose Mourinho stereotypically distrustful of youth, who does he think has the best chance of changing that perception for good?
“Youngsters are always going to be the future of Manchester United football club because that’s in their history. That’s been done throughout the decades and Jose has come to understand that. We saw that in a game last season where there were numerous debutants and the likes of Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah and Pereira have all got a chance. It’s a matter of putting in the performances and proving to Jose that you’re good enough for the first team with all the pressure that brings. Fosu-Mensah certainly looks a really powerful and strong defender. It’s actually frightening.”
If the Dutch teenager does succeed in finally putting the bed the notion that the Special One prefers players of experience there is also another long-standing cliché that Pallister is looking forward to being disproved.
“Jose has spoken about how United have to entertain and play a certain type of football which was a breath of fresh air for the fans because we’d had three years of stagnant football. That was hard to take after the Ferguson years where most of the time it was 4-4-2 and trying to score more goals than the opposition. So I will be intrigued to see how they start the season and whether he takes the reins off Rashford and plays him with Lukaku. I do think that Mourinho understands what Manchester United is all about now and he’s trying to play more entertaining and adventurous football.”
Whether it’s open, attacking fare or stoic pragmatism witnessed at the Theatre of Dreams this season ultimately of course it will come down to results. What does the ex-England international believe will be considered a successful campaign, and what will be viewed as unacceptable?
“It’s difficult to judge because last year we won two trophies and qualified for the Champions League all-be-it through the back door. Failure would certainly be failing to finish in the top four. That’s always been the remit for managers since Sir Alex left. But I would expect United to be up there challenging as well. It would be disappointing if we aren’t.”