Thursday, 23 July 2015

LOOKING BACK TO SAN JOSE AND AHEAD OF FC BARCELONA

In the end we can only hope and indeed assume that Louis van Gaal got what he wanted from Manchester United's second pre-season fixture. As I blogged in the preview, San Jose Earthquakes were by no means an improvement in opposition from the club's first fixture. As such any conclusions drawn from the fixture must be tempered by that bottom line.

Pre-season, however, is not about results but rather impressions. In what was a role reversal from the opening game, this time, it was the first half team that impressed on the night ahead of the second half team. Indeed the manager could only sum up the second half as 'bad' with 'only one highlight'. Despite taking the brunt of the criticism, I didn't think Bastian Schweinsteiger played as bad as was made out. Having decisively lost the midfield battle, the MLS side played five across the middle in the second period to add to United's own five. It made for a midfield scrap of sorts with no real winner of the midfield battle in the second period. The German veteran still managed to pick out a couple of Scholes-esque passes to James Wilson as a means of negating the midfield scrap.

The more obvious positive impressions came in the first half. Luke Shaw stood head and shoulders above the rest by turning on the turbo engine down the left flank. So many of what was good about United before recess came with the young Englishman combining well with his compatriot Ashley Young down the left. The latter seems to have maintained the directness that earned him a regular spot in the side last season. Perhaps just as well because Memphis Depay was touted as his competition in the side.

The Dutchman himself was on hand to bag his first goal for the club pouncing on an under-hit back pass to double United's lead close to half-time. He showed enough instinct and nerve in the build to his goal that he seems to have the natural repertoire of a finisher added to his wide-man abilities. If United are not in the window for another striker then just maybe Louis might in fact have him down for that role permanently ahead of the season.

It's not just the Dutchman who has to share in the goal-scoring burden though. Juan Mata, has in two games continued his impressive contribution the opposition box. The diminutive Spaniard is rearely mentioned as a goal threat but his tally and indeed the number of shots he registers are well within the figures of a centre forward. In the conundrum that is what is United's best XI, his statistics make it continuously difficult to overlook him.

Despite the positives of the opening half, it was also the one in which United let in their first goal on tour. Having put up another remarkable midfield shift, Morgan Schneiderlin, perhaps taken aback, by the waltzing run of his opponent got skinned before the ball run into touch. The resulting cross was tapped home for the home-side. The goal conceded was not by itself cause for concern at the back for United but that for the second game in a row, Daley Blind started at centre back. It remains a minor wonder how this close to August, United have not yet signed a centre back of genuine quality.


The drop off in quality and rhythm in the second half can easily be attributed to 10 changes at the break but was still a joy to behold watching Jesse Lingaard swing one in for Andreas Pereira to nod home. The Brazillian forward in particular has undoubtedly showcased his talent to the manager on this tour. It is to be hoped that the boss gives him enough game time next season to fast-track his development into another 10'.

 Ultimately though, this was but another fitness exercise for United. The level will be as enhanced as it can possibly be in each of the next two games. United end the tour with a tough test against Paris Saint Germain but first, clash with European Champions Barcelona in Santa Clara on Saturday (lunchtime, local).

There's so many reasons why Saturday could be the first real indication of where United are this season. First, the manager has revealed that it will be the first game where he names close to his strongest possible side with the starting XI guaranteed at least 60 minutes. We are therefore bound to know whether the manager will stick with the current 4-2-3-1 cum 4-3-3 shape for the long term. Most crucially though will be how United, having spent more than a week in training with a couple of games will stand to the test of far better players than they have so far dealt with on tour.

Admittedly, there is no Lionel Messi or Neymar to deal with but the vampire upfront is still supported by the stardust in the Barcelona midfield, and will therefore be more than well equipped to test United's midfield and defence. For a certain type of audience, it will also be interesting to see who of the sides dominates possession since we've come to appreciate Barca as one of the best on the one hand and also since it requires a Google search to find out the last time United lost a possession battle in Louis van Gaal's tenure so far on the other hand.

For United though, its just down to 90 minutes of preparation game-time left after this. The manager has quietly mentioned an indoor game in the week leading up to the premier league opener but it is to be hopped he is still not finding about his team then.

Again, it won't be so much about the result as it is about impressions come Saturday evening. You would imagine though that confidence in the squad will reach sky-high if they get one over the reigning kings of Europe!


     

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