Friday, 17 July 2015

AHEAD OF THE PRE-SEASON OPENER VS CLUB AMERICA

Manchester United playing staff on tour pose for a photo in the plane before take-off to the USA on Monday
Century LinkField Park, home of the Seattle Sounders and Hawks will host Manchester United's first pre-season outing of the summer. Under the umbrella of a tournament dubbed the International Champions Cup, Louis van Gaal and his side get to defend the trophy they remarkably won last summer somewhat against the odds.

 United will in fact play less games this time round, with much less travelling, but such was the desperation by the organisers of the tournament to get English football's biggest side to partake that they were willing to tailor the tournament according to van Gaal's demands.

In his pre-tour interview, Louis van Gaal revealed the structure of the tour games. The boss intends to use the first couple of games to ease the squad into the playing side of things. As such, for Friday evening's opener against Mexican side Club America, no player will take part for more than 45 minutes. Understandably, it's about fitness and not results at this stage and so the more players you get fit, the more useful pre-season becomes for the club.

In terms of the opposition, Club America have already had much more game-time (2 games in the ICC tournament) than United and will probably be a tad sharper off their heels. Indeed, whilst United were up in the air on Monday heading to Seattle, the Mexican side were fresh from a 2-1 victory against the Sounders. The Mexican outfit play a straight forward 4-4-2 and Louis van Gall, in his usual meticulous approach, claims to have done the complete homework against them.

Expected home shirt for the New Season
Having elected against playing a further friendly back at home before the start of the season, it's just as well that the fixture difficulty improves as pre-season moves on. Unlike most sides, United have just the four games to ready themselves ahead of the new league season in week 2 of August. It means only the games vs Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain shall give us a clear indication as to where United are before the real business kicks in.

TACTICS:

Louis van Gaal surprised many a faithful last summer by starting out United in a 3-5-2 formation that formed the ethos around which majority of last season was played out. It worked such wonders in pre-season that even the likes of Real Madrid succumbed, but not quite when the season got underway.

This summer, the Dutch coach was intent on making early purchases and additions to the playing staff so as to work out the approach to next season with a good majority from the very beginning.
Having to fit 12 midfielders in a maximum of 5 positions in the middle of the park has already led to speculation about the formation and tactics that shall be employed this season.

We know that the fiery Dutchman prefers the classic 4-3-3 which informs the signing of Memphis Depay but we also know he is not one to be rigid when something is not working out for him hence the multi-functionality of his playing squad. You would imagine though that the 4-3-3 shall be the first try. The biggest conundrum remains how he picks his central midfield partnership now that the club is blessed with an embarrassment of riches in the middle. Juan Mata has flourished an 'inside-right' midfielder under the manager whilst Ander Herrera has made a telling contribution in the final third. Increasingly, it appears that one of them will have to make way. Regardless the combination, it is expected that central midfield should no longer appear an area of weakness from the touchline, up in the stands or via the telly. And therefore, if it is true that the winner of the midfield battle usually wins a football match, then United should be able to win more than they lose going forward.

As alluded to already, and with hind-sight of last summer, results count for little in pre-season. On Friday evening-cum-Saturday morning, the most important thing to look out for from a manager's perspective will be what shape we shall take going forward and by how much, in any, the the team has gelled in the short period together so far.

Above all, it will feel like back-sliding into a nasty addiction when United kick-off at 04.00 am in the UK, Saturday morning. What a time to be alive!

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