OPINION Antony has what he didn't have last year at Manchester United

Man United will be hoping to see the very best of Antony on a more consistent basis after an indifferent first season at Old Trafford. 
Some goals are more important than others.

Of the 108 that Manchester United plundered in all competitions last season, Antony's match-winning and tie-winning strike against Barcelona at Old Trafford back in February was right up there. After Fred had cancelled out Robert Lewandowski's penalty to bring United back level on aggregate, Antony delivered the all-important knockout blow.

After Fred's effort was blocked by former United target Frenkie de Jong, the ball sat up invitingly for Antony just inside the penalty area to stroke it home, first time, into the far corner. Eruption.

It was the former Ajax winger's best moment in a United shirt and it secured Erik ten Hag his most famous win as Reds manager so far. It was a goal made in Amsterdam but produced in Manchester.

Unfortunately for Antony, however, it wasn't a moment that he was able to replicate all that often in his first season at Old Trafford. Signed on the final day of the summer transfer window for an eye-watering fee of £85.5million, the Brazilian was Ten Hag's top target throughout the summer to strengthen United's right-wing options.

The Dutchman was intent on bolstering that area of the team after Jadon Sancho had failed to deliver the goods in his maiden season at Old Trafford. After several weeks of speculation, plenty of negotiating and the Brazilian refusing to train in an attempt to force through a move, United got their man.

Though his overall performance on his debut against Arsenal at Old Trafford was nothing to write home about, he capped it with a goal, scoring the opener in a 3-1 win. He then scored in the subsequent Premier League fixtures against Manchester City and Everton, meaning he scored three goals in his first three league appearances.

He then went just over six months without registering a single direct goal contribution in the Premier League, not scoring in the league again until the 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on April 16. He did, however, chip in with both goals and assists in the three cup competitions during that dry spell.

Antony ended the season with just eight goals and three assists to his name, automatically resulting in questions being asked about his hefty price tag. Eyebrows were raised at the time, particularly as he had never stepped foot inside one of Europe's top five leagues, but Ten Hag had his heart set on being reunited with him in M16.

Consistency was what Antony struggled to find most last season, regularly blowing hot and cold. One week it felt as though he had turned a corner and fully adjusted to life in England, only for him to be back to square one the next. Throughout the campaign, though, he did offer flashes of his capabilities and potential.

Antony will be hoping to kick on this forthcoming campaign (Image: David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images.)
And it is that potential and genuine quality that United need to see on a more regular basis this forthcoming season. Though the Reds need to add a striker to their ranks to assist with their attacking output, they also need more from their current crop of attackers, such as Antony and Sancho from the wide areas.

Antony has the capabilities to score goals, as he demonstrated on occasions last term, and Ten Hag will no doubt be challenging him to do that more frequently in 2023/24. And that is where the benefit of a full pre-season should come in useful for the 23-year-old.

He joined United right at the very end of the transfer window last season, meaning he made his debut for the club just three days after putting pen to paper on a five-year contract. It meant he was flung straight into the team without getting the opportunity to settle into his new surroundings and learn about his new teammates.

This summer, however, he will get the chance to spend several weeks with his teammates on the club's pre-season tour of the USA, learning more about them as footballers and individuals. United's remaining crop of friendlies will give him the chance to work on areas of his game without the added pressure of the result being the important takeaway from each of the contests.

As well as that, Ten Hag will be able to spend more time with him on the training ground with bigger gaps between fixtures, allowing him to work on specifics that he wants him to improve on. If all of that comes together and Antony makes the most of the nature of pre-season, he will be hoping to find the consistency levels that were missing last season.

The next few weeks could be key in shaping his second season at Old Trafford.

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