Sunday, 26 July 2015

UNITED GETTING THERE, BUT...

Levi Stadium in Santa Clara beams the scoreline at the end of an entertaining match
In terms of the impression formed from Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Barcelona, Louis van Gaal has succeeded in getting 22 of his playing staff to a competitive level of fitness ahead of the new league season. If pre-season is solely about that, then its pretty much job done! Playing Barcelona in soaring temperatures was not simply about whether United could get a scalp over the European Champions but about severely testing the players' ability to keep their shape against a Barcelona side that was always going to give United the run-around.

United passed it, at least according to the manager's post-match comments, but the unforgiving nature of the premier league means that we cannot be entirely sure that this United side is ready for when the serious business starts in a fortnight.
Ashley Young congratulates his captain

For starters, not one senior player has played the full 90 minutes of any game on tour. Whereas it is just as wise for the manager to first rotate the players on a 45-minute basis and then the 60-30 minute basis we saw last night, you wonder if there's not been enough games scheduled this pre-season to get a few of the players playing 90 minutes ahead of the new season. The point is simple. Manchester United are 90 minutes away from the first league game of the season and yet the business stuff allows for just the 3 substitutions in a game and not the XI we've been making on tour.

Last season, there was a pattern of United failing to 'turn-up' for the duration of the 90 minutes in games. The manager consistently pointed out at the time that there was a need to 'kill-the-game' or 'finish the game' when United gave up leads by conceding goals late on in games they otherwise dominated.

Last night, approaching the hour mark, United began to tire, and dropped off a notch, granting Barcelona a flurry of chances right before the boss made XI changes. Understandably, it was because none of the players had played more than 45 minutes since the start of pre-season but the worry was that Barcelona, playing just their second game on tour, with their season still a month away, looked much fitter than United at the hour mark, with the Red Devils in their third tour match and with just one more friendly match left.
Whereas it is true that United are decent enough to start the season tomorrow, there is every chance that we could dominate Spurs for the best part of an hour come August 8th and tail off for the last 30 minutes. At that point, if we have not made our chances count, it could make for a very nervy finish.

In context of the above concerns, one wonders whether United are better off playing a few more players for the 90 minutes in the last warm-up fixture against Paris Saint Germain in Chicago on Thursday morning. Certainly, I'd imagine it would not be a healthy predicament to have our players play the 90 minutes for the first time in the first competitive match. If Luke Shaw pulls his hamstring in the 75th minute of the first game of the season, it will hardly be because of bad luck.

Game proper though, United AGAIN, lined up 4-2-3-1 with Memphis Depay supporting Wayne Rooney up top. It's increasingly becoming the case that the manager will not start United out in a 4-3-3 on August 8th but in a rather lesser modification. Admittedly, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw have struck a devastating partnership down the left that has been the source of our attacks throughout pre-season, in a continuation with the end of last season. Once again, it appears if an opposition manager works out how to stop United's left flank, we could be left short of attacking ideas upfront.

That said, it seems to strike up a good balance about United in the sense that whereas United are free flowing on the left, they are solid on the right owing to the brilliance of Matteo Darmian who consistently makes defending a first priority. It means United are now far less likely to be caught in behind like they were when Antonio Valencia was caught out of position thrice in his half-hour cameo.

United players congratulate Wayne Rooney after netting the opener
Finally, it cannot have gone unnoticed that Daley Blind was, for the third game running, chosen to start at centre-back ahead of Chris Smalling. In the spirit of continuously leaving us open-mouthed, Louis van Gaal could yet start him there at the beginning of the season. What is less uncertain is that he is perhaps one of the most trusted of his manager's players. He seems to please the boss regardless of whether he is deployed even though the fans could do with a bit more certainty in terms of the make-up of the defence.

In the grand scheme of things though, I imagine confidence will be high among the players after getting a result against the kind of opposition they will face more regularly in the Champions League next season. Yes, it could have been a different story if the width of the frame of goal was much thinner, but you couldn't help but marvel at the youthful exuberance of the second string side that took up the mantle from their superiors admirably to finish off the game in some style. If the quartet of Pereira, Lingard, Januzaj and Wilson (if not loaned out) doesn't get a few games next season, then it will be a long time before Academy graduates breakthrough permanently into the first team. These lads seem to have harnessed their development together, so much so that they look like they can all make the step up at the same time or near around the same time. They'll have some serious competition when United get done with their transfer business but those heading for the top have never shied away from competition.

Three wins from three on tour in the US of A (including one against the European Cup holders) has already given this summer a spooky feel given the similarities with last summer. It's increasingly becoming the case that if Louis van Gaal can take the premier league as seriously as he does friendly games, then United will win the league by some distance next season!  
  

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