Manchester United had a trophyless season last time out under Jose Mourinho, and the club finished 2nd by a distance of 19 points behind their City rivals. They also lost in the FA Cup final against Chelsea, and bowed out to Sevilla in the Champions League knockout round.
United by no means had a bad season, but left much to be desired, and the difference in quality when compared to Manchester City was there for all to see. The club with a massive fan base has a lot of work to do if they are to catch up with the top clubs in Europe this season.
While the pre-season does indeed do little to predict the performance going into the new season, it is certainly useful to pick up certain trends and hint at the readiness of a few players.
United have had an underwhelming pre-season to put it mildly, winning only once in the 6 games played and losing twice (including a 4-1 hammering by league rivals Liverpool).
While this may be a cause for concern at the club, the fact is Mourinho for the much of the tour utilized a young squad of players. United have also been without certain important players who are on an enforced break after their World Cup campaigns.
This brings us to the first thing we've learned from United's pre-season:
#1 United miss their best players
Coming off a major international tournament is never easy on a big club, especially those with a strong representation in these tournaments. Man United have been without the services of their record signing and World Cup winner Paul Pogba who is currently also being linked to a move away from the club.
Pogba is yet to return to training after his break and might take a couple of weeks to get back into the first team if he does actually stay. Another crucial midfield man for United is Matic who is currently out injured and is slated to return late in August.
The club's top scorer last season - Romelu Lukaku is also yet to return to first team training and the club lacks another physical center forward in his absence. Rashford who has just returned to the team may fill in for him until he gets back, but goals look to be a problem until he does.
Along with them are squad players Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young who haven't featured in the pre-season at all. These positions do have alternatives though, with Herrera and Luke Shaw more than capable of filling in. A swift return however would give United some much needed squad depth.
Until Man United get back to full strength, fans might have to endure a tough opening couple of weeks.
#2 Alexis Sanchez needs to come good this season
The January star signing from Arsenal had a tough time integrating with the squad and the new style of play last term. The Chilean came with huge expectations, but could not live up to the lofty standards that he had set himself up for.
With Chile not playing in the World Cup this year, Sanchez has had a full pre season under his belt. He showed glimpses of his quality - scoring twice and assisting once, the new season will be his ultimate test.
United have relied upon his attacking instincts in the absence of Lukaku, and it would not be wrong to say that he would be the main man to look up to for goals going into the new campaign.
Sanchez has played as a striker thus far in pre-season, and that is the position in which he gave his best attacking performance ever in the EPL for Arsenal. Man United fans will be hoping he recaptures that form this season.
#3 Pereira is ready for the first team
United have over the years had an exciting crop of youngsters. Players like Lingard, Pogba, and Rashford are all United academy products, and have over the years impressed on the biggest of footballing stages.
Andreas Pereira is another young talent who had decided to leave on loan last season to have first team experience. Jose Mourinho had stated that he would have preferred the youngster to have stayed and fight for a place. The Brazilian might just do that this time and possibly nail a first team place if his pre-season performance is anything to go by.
Deployed in the centre of midfield inherently as a number 6, Pereira is a good runner with the ball and has been impressive in ball distribution. Also showing an eye for goal, he scored a wonderful free kick against Liverpool in a friendly.
Also impressive in his loan spells to Granada and Valencia in the last couple of years, Pereira at times took center stage with his technical ability and instinct to run at the opposition.
If he can continue his progression and gets ample opportunities from the manager, Pereira might just be the next success story at Man United.
#4 Mourinho is beginning to lose patience
Jose Mourinho has never been subtle, and the tales of his third season meltdowns are well known. Manchester United fans will be praying to see a change in trend this season.
Not one to go trophyless for too long, Mourinho's footballing philosophy centers around winning more than to entertain. What this means is that his teams play in a certain way, emphasizing structural solidity with players usually stuck in rigid roles.
The Portuguese manager has slowly built United as a formidable side over the past two years, and is perhaps a bit unlucky to have come up against a tremendous Manchester City side at the same time.
All the while managers such as Klopp and Pochettino are earning accolades for their footballing styles over his own defense minded set up. This has set Mourinho up for a Herculean task of keeping United's demanding fan base pleased with trophies and good football.
What remains a big question is whether United can achieve that this season or in the coming ones under him? For now, it looks like Mourinho is beginning to lose patience in his quest to bring back the glory days, and it has showed in his comments in the press over the pre-season.
He has publicly displayed dissatisfaction with his players such as Martial who had to leave United's pre-season tour midway to attend the birth of his child. Also showing displeasure on the players not having yet returned to training following the World Cup.
Added to this, Mourinho is reportedly not happy with the transfer business done as of yet and has stated that he would probably not be getting the number of players he wants before the window closes.
Jose Mourinho has his work cut out this season, and if United do not manage a good start to the campaign, expect more fireworks from the Portuguese manager.
#5 United need further reinforcements
The pre-season activities certainly revealed United currently lack quality players in key areas.
On the creativity front, the team has a need for quality wingers as their attack currently seems too reliant on Alexis Sanchez, with Juan Mata being the only creative outlet behind him.
Last season, Man United were in pursuit of Ivan Perisic but failed to capture him much to the ire of Jose Mourinho. With the transfer window about to close in a couple of days, it looks like United still haven't gotten any close to signing a naturally wide playing midfielder.
The club needs to move quickly if it wants to address the creativity problems in the side. United were way behind City in the goal scoring department, and this remains one area they need to address.
United are reportedly also in search of a commanding central defender to shore up their back-line. United had a good defensive record last season but injury problems at times led to a generally unsettled back four. Being linked to a lot of CB's like Boateng, Alderweireld, Yerry Mina and Harry Maguire, the club is certainly looking to address this problem before the window closes.