The nature of the so called ICC tournament is that stalemates are unacceptable. Penalties were therefore required to establish a winner from last night's tie with Inter Milan. United did eventually win but the Italians will take home the fact that for 90 minutes, they kept out United.
The run of play was that United had most of the ball, played more passes, were more incisive but equally blunt in the final third as Inter were. The refreshing thing in all this is that it is already apparent that LVG has already made us a better team with the ball than we've been in a long while. Forget the LA Galaxy opener, but the games against AS Roma and last night vs Inter see us coming off as better with the ball than our opponents. Granted, the Italian sides are not the best at denying the opposition the ball, however, when you factor in the fact that sides like Southampton, Swansea and even Sunderland out passed and out possessed us at different stages last seaaon, the point comes home.
LVG was frustrated that in the second half vs Roma, the players did not execute his plan of tiring Roma by denying them the ball. Last night, in the 38th minute, United nearly scored from a 22 pass move that had just about every player touch the ball enroute to the chance. It's a fantsatsic trait to take into the season. The challenge though is to now become good without the ball.
Pressing has so far been another welcome addition to our game. Note that in the three games played so far, we've had less penalty box clearances than any 3 game combination at any stage of last season. Pressing in a 3-5-2 system has allowed us to get control of possession before the opposition mounts attacks into our penalty box. As a result, the 3 dedenders at the back and indeed the goalkeepers have not been as much under pressure as we had become accustomed to. It is no wonder that the only goals conceded so far are from a 63 yard strike and a penalty wrongly awarded for an offence committed outside the box. Compare that with the deep defending employed by David Moyes and Sir Alex's last few years at the club.
Saturday's game against Real Madrid now makes for fascinating observation. In many ways, it is likely to be the hardest game we shall play in a year. The European champions are still short of a few world cup stars but so are United. In any case, it will be interesting to see how our new found tactics and philosophy match up against Real Madrid's swift and decisive counter attacks. More importantly is how comfortable our players will be with the ball in the presence of equally good and in some areas even better players. It's the ultimate test of pre season and perhaps a good indication of how far we've come since the off season started.
The downside of all this is that topping the group, as we currently are, means that we get to play another tie in Miami for the final. It's the last thing LVG would have wanted but given that it could potentially be against the vermin or the bitters, it all makes for great anticipation.