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Key Battles: Torreira to test Manchester United’s midfield, as Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof face double trouble

Manchester United are set to play their final pre-season match of the summer ahead of the season opening UEFA Super Cup, as they visit the Aviva Stadium in Ireland to face Serie A side Sampdoria. The Italian side have lost, and are losing, some key players from the previous season that helped them reach the top half of the division, and yet there are still enough players to give the United team some trouble. And with that in mind, here are some potential battles to look out for in Wednesday’s match:

Paul Pogba vs Lucas Torreira

Possibly the biggest clash of talents in this match-up lies in midfield, with Pogba coming up against one of the Serie A’s most underrated talents in Torreira. While teammate Patrik Schick has been courting with big clubs Juventus and Inter Milan this summer, Torreira has shown his commitment to the Blucerchiati by signing a new six-year contract recently.

What’s interesting about this particular battle is that it’s a two-way fight. While Torreira plays deeper in midfield, which places him as a last line screen for the midfield, putting him as a Pogba’s last obstacle, Torreira is a player in the Michael Carrick mold. Meaning, he is someone to dictate tempo, maintain possession and act as the starter of attacks, which means that Pogba will have to put his defending hat on when Torreira is in possession. An interesting midfield battle of the minds, with the primary midfield creators of each team positioned against one another, having to outthink each other both defensively and offensively. A good test for Pogba’s reading of the game and anticipation, which he doesn’t usually get to practice.

Victor Lindelof-Chris Smalling vs Fabio Quagliarella-Gianluca Caprari

With Eric Bailly and now Phil Jones suspended from playing in the Super Cup, Smalling and Lindelof are the likely pairing to take on Real Madrid in Macedonia, and thus they are likely to be put through their paces one last time in this game. So far in this pre-season tour, Lindelof has been struggling to repeat the form he showed at Benfica that got him his United transfer. He’s been slow in his reactions and seemed hesitant to dive into challenges. And in his final chance to impress before the season starts he will mostly face off with veteran striker Quagliarella.

Despite taking on less of a high profile role compared to Schick last season, Quagliarella still managed a highly respectable tally of 12 Serie A goals, more than any of his teammates. With Schick potentially out for the game, and Luis Muriel having left to Sevilla, Quagliarella will have the spotlight on him. With Quagliarella’s hold up play ability, and summer signing Caprari supporting him, this will be a great test for Lindelof’s proactive defending. Stopping Quagliarella in possession is a good opportunity for Lindelof to practice his “getting stuck in” defending.

While taking on the quicker, more agile Caprari, who has been playing to Quagliarella’s right when they have played together this summer, will be a good test for Smalling. He has struggled under Jose Mourinho’s more position-oriented defence and stopping fast, slippery forwards have not come easy for him.

The Lindelof-Smalling partnership has yet to bring out the best in either player so far this pre-season, and with the start of the season drawing closer, they need to be brought into shape sooner rather than later. The Quagliarella-Caprari strike partnership is almost tailor made in style to put the United defenders’ weaknesses, and the overall quality of the two forwards and the fact that this is also a brand new partnership means they still won’t have enough to completely overpower the two defenders.

Romelu Lukaku vs Vasco Regini

Lukaku has been in great form this pre-season since joining from Everton, with three goals so far making him United’s pre-season joint top scorer alongside Marcus Rashford. If he were to add to this tally, however, he would first need to get past Sampdoria captain Regini. Regini spent most of the last season playing at left back, but following the departure of Milan Skriniar, and with players such as Daniel Pavlovic, Dodo, and new signing Nicola Murru available to play at left back, Regini has played at centre back for all of Sampdoria’s pre-season matches.

Regini’s experience playing left back should place him on the left side of the defensive pairing, putting him right where Lukaku likes to attack. Most probably, Lukaku’s speed, aerial ability, and strength should be too much for Regini to handle, but the reality might not be so simple. While he has been bagging the goals, Lukaku has also shown weakness in his touch and control, which could be exploited, and Regini isn’t a poor defender himself, with a good balance of pace and power.

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