Manchester United’s propensity to have multiple shorts and/or socks in the same colour in the same season is nothing new, but the 2022-23 pre-season and early part of the campaign has thrown up something unprecedented, while also repeating a quirk of a couple of seasons ago.
These are the Red Devils’ first and second kits for this season – however, after six friendlies and the league opener against Brighton & Hove Albion, neither has been seen in its default setting.
To our eyes, the two kits look perfect for mixing and matching, but you have to go back to 1996-97 for the last time that United had perfect interchangeability. Instead, there are special back-up home socks and alternative away shorts and socks but, despite this, there has been some crossover. It means that the seven games played so far have resulted in seven distinct combinations.
United’s first match under new manager Erik ten Hag was a 4-0 win over Liverpool in Thailand.
With their opponents premiering an all-white new change kit, United wore the black away shorts with the home shirts and socks – there don’t seem to be a special black set designated to the home kit, so this was presumably the plan for shorts-clashes this season.
From there, they went to Australia and recorded a 4-1 victory against Melbourne Victory in the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
With the local side clad in all-navy, United needed a change of socks and so they donned white versions of the black home set – the chief design device is a repeating pattern of red triangles overlaid with black lines, which, according to the blurb, “bears resemblance to some of the club’s most memorable kits throughout history”.
The winning run continued with another game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, this time a 3-1 triumph against Crystal Palace. While they could have premiered the second kit in its intended format against Palace’s blue shorts and socks – like they did in the 2016 FA Cup final – United often switch to white in such instances and that was the case here, too.
The away kit features dual-coloured striping – perhaps surprisingly, the first time United have ever had that across either of their stints with adidas – but, while white away change shorts with the red-black-red stripes are available in the club shop, it seems they weren’t brought to Australia. Instead, the home set, with three black stripes and the crest in a white shield (in contrast to the black shield of the away shirt and away change shorts) was used.
There would be a second outing for the white shirts against Premier League opposition in quick succession as United played Aston Villa in Perth, drawing 2-2.
Unusually, Villa were in their change kit too, with the white-v-sky blue matchup not ideal.
Villa’s away socks are claret, but United opted to wear the black alternative away set.
Then, at the end of July, United played two friendlies on consecutive days – Atlético Madrid in Oslo and Rayo Vallecano at home at Old Trafford.
Atlético’s away kit this season is all-black and so United went red-white-white – but with the away socks rather than the style used against Melbourne Victory.
After a 1-0 defeat, their first loss of pre-season, they hosted the all-white-clad Vallecano and so went red-black-black – once more, though, it was the socks designed for use with the away strip as they drew 1-1 with the Spanish side.
In Sunday’s Premier League opener against Brighton & Hove Albion, a 2-1 loss, United were in their traditional red shirts, white shorts and black socks for the first time since the end of last season, but once again the home socks were overlooked.
The ‘proper’ home socks being supplanted by an alternative set for a change kit might seem odd, but it’s exactly what happened with United two years ago – in the latter part of the delayed 2019-20 season and the 2020-21 opening game against Crystal Palace, black socks with a speckled pattern matching the home shirt were used.
But, thereafter, the plain change socks for the third kit – lacking any Manchester United identification – were favoured.
This weekend, United are away to Brentford, so the third kit is likely to be revealed. After that, the game against Liverpool at Old Trafford on August 22 may tell us more about what the ‘standard’ home kit for the season will be – or it may add to the confusion.