United players congratulate Morgan Schneiderlin on his debut goal
There's a lot of mystery encompassed therein the expectation from Louis van Gaal's new-look Manchester United. A lot was therefore revealed earlier today when the club par-took their opening pre-season fixture against Mexican side Club America. Here's what we learned, or rather some questions that remain unanswered.

1. 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1?
The brief-script reads that Louis van Gaal shall employ his much favoured 4-3-3 system when United resume the serious business next month but with now just three games before it gets real, van Gaal went with a 4-2-3-1 with Memphis Depay supporting Wayne Rooney in attack. Granted, pre-season is a manager's play-thing to try whatever he dreamed of the night before but that freedom has to be tempered by a need to implement future plans to give the players headway into your ideas.

Wayne Rooney leads out the side
This is not to suggest that the system didn't work. Far from it, but you would imagine next season should see less of the tactical adjustments United had to make in-season to discover what worked for the team. Given the targets of next term, there will be no room to 'learn on the job' for van Gaal and the players. Suffice it is to say then that it is important that the manager sticks to something similar throughout pre-season. It would be mental, for instance, if United set out with 3 at the back for the clash with San Jose Earthquakes.

 2. No more Antonio Valencia at Right-back?
I did suggest in the assessment of the transfer window that in Matteo Darmian, Manchester United might have finally replaced Gary Neville. I know it was just Club America but there was a huge difference in feeling having Matteo down the right than the Ecuadorian. For starters, his energy levels meant that he could easily get up and down the flank almost effortlessly. His Italian defensive instincts make it easy for him to do the most crucial bit about his job, defending.

Valencia's injury meant that we could not compare notes for the second half but we've seen enough of the Ecuadorian in that position to judge his abilities. To be fair to him, he doesn't choose to be played out of position, but even he will acknowledge that he'd be better off without those few albeit crucial moments of lapses in concentration last season.

The boss has said Matteo has to complete with Antonio for the right-back spot but on this evidence, it's hard to see where the competition against the Italian is.

3. United need a centre-back, and fast!
Not that we didn't know this before this fixture, but the only chill that went down my spine after the team news announcement was Daley Blind at centre-back with Phil Jones. The Dutch model man was fortunate not to concede a penalty for what was a most agricultural of tackles in the penalty-box. Phil Jones failed a couple of tests in the first half and his misjudgment could have been punished by a better team but it was only the first game of pre-season.

The bottom line though remains. United need at least one quality centre-half in the window to supplement the lot of 'maybes' in the squad.
Schneiderlin wheels away to celebrate his looping headed goal
4. Hakuna-matata in the middle!
After almost a decade of a blatant lack of real steel in the middle of the park, Louis van Gaal and Manchester United might have finally struck gold. A Southampton mate of mine once tweeted to me that he was surprised that of all the business Liverpool had done at St. Marys' recently, they never once thought of taking their best player, Morgan Schneiderlin. The feeling is that Morgan does not come with the aura of Bastian Schweinsteiger but he is easily one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. As it was, a lot more fans discovered the same when the Frenchman unlocked the package of composure, steel, and finesse with a pass at the heart of United's midfield.

His 5th minute goal, that turned out to be the winner, was a demonstration of his physical presence in both boxes, an added threat at set pieces that a 'small' United team hardly capitalised on last season. In the half he played, he was Man of the Match! That should just about sum up his debut.

Perhaps the most crucial note in the middle of the park was that when Morgan came off at half-time, his replacement, Bastian Schweinsteiger made it just as comfortable for United in midfield. That he was accompanied by Ander Herrera in there made for an eye-watering reading of the resources United now boast in midfield. It's simply astonishing that from being United's Achilles heel, midfield is now the club's strength! Some transformation that.

5. Memphis Depay still has a rough edge about him
Depay was busy
  He's only 21 and even at his worst, he is better than Nani, but for all the comparisons with a certain boy from Madeira, Memphis Depay remains the unfinished article. He is fortunate, though, to work with one of the few managers that can harness his potential and add to the little traits lacking in his otherwise excellent game. What he is definitely not lacking is self-confidence, but he showed the flaw of having too much in it when he chose to shoot at a time when the ONLY logical option was to play in Ashley Young through on goal.

I'd still like him to try the extra-ordinary, because, like that boy from Madeira, he could just as easily be lining up a free-kick at the Emirates 42 yards out and going for goal when the ONLY logical option would be to swing it into the box. However, whether, like the Madeira boy, he would score is only down to how much he believes in himself!

 6. What happened to ruthless Manchester United?
For all the cries about United's shaky backline last season, it was in the goals department that United came up considerably short when compared to their previous league campaigns. It's damning that United scored more under David Moyes than they did under Louis van Gaal last season. Admittedly, it is the Dutchman's philosophy to 'kill games' when he sees that his team is in a position to win the match but it's worrying how often United hit the target with menacing accuracy.

I mean shouldn't it be a bad thing that I had a gut feeling when Morgan scored in the 5th minute that it would also be the last goal we would muster on the night. I just didn't want to believe it but the worrying pattern of chance after chance gone begging returned for the remainder of the match.
Again, one cannot get their panties in a twist over the first game of pre-season but there are coincidences (like Wayne Rooney reading a clever chipped pass from Memphis Depay) and there are patterns!
Bastian Schweinsteiger with a trademark pass
7. Promote them kids!
The second half scoreline reads 0-0 but it was during that period that United looked more electric and more likely to add another goal. The energy and enterprise brought by Andreas Pereira, Jese Lingaard and Adnan Januzaj made for much better viewing. It helps though that they have played together for the reserves a number of times but there is enough talent among them three lads to warrant much more game-time next season. That they look like they can get better should be enough motive to keep them from preying eyes of scouts that are looking out for the next Pogba-situation.

Special mention to goalkeeper Sam Johnstone for finally settling the debate to the conclusion that he is much better than David De Gea. Anders Lindegaard  the departed Ben Amos.

Next up is a trip to California where United will face the mighty San Jose Earthquakes at another ungodly hour in these parts. More on that in the middle of the week.



Labels: , , , , ,