Manchester United had their first real test on this pre-season tour, in Barcelona. In spite of Lionel Messi and Neymar missing, Barcelona still holds up as a team to beat; they were,after all, the best team in Europe last season. With such an opponent, United needed to be on the top of their game to have the result on their side, and so they were, at least partially. United overcame Barcelona by beating them 3-1, with goals from Wayne Rooney, Jesse Lingard and Adnan Januzaj. The performance today might remind some people of the display against the top of the table teams last season. Val Gaal’s United, always fared better while facing a team which is open to score and hence pushes forward. The case with Barcelona was a similar one too. It was not a total dominant display but was a performance, which can give supporters a definite hope for the coming season.
Van Gaal in his pre match press conference mentioned that the team starting today will be close to the one starting the Premier Leagues season fixture against Tottenham Hotspur. And it was good to see that the youngster Matteo Darmian featured ahead of Antonio Valencia in the right back role. The overall performance in this match was decent however the back line could do with some more improvement. A leader at the back, someone who is experienced at handling the pressure, should be on United’s shopping list this summer. There were certain things which stood out. Lets have a look at these points.
David De Gea made a huge impact
United started this match with their star goalkeeper, in news constantly on the back of his speculated move to Real Madrid, David De Gea in goal. It would have been a huge confidence boost for the relatively inexperienced defense line that United had. In the following few minutes, especially the first half hour, De Gea showed why two of the best football clubs want him dearly at their disposal. In spite of being out, on account of an injury, for first couple of matches and not having any sort of match practise in past 2 months, De Gea was right on the mark straight away. He was tested consistently by Luis Suarez, however him with the help of the woodwork, kept the ball out. United’s chances of challenging for the title and progressing in the Champions League will depend a lot on whether the Spanish keeper stays or not.
Daley Blind proving the doubters wrong
One must have felt that Daley Blind might just be the most affected player by the midfield raid from Louis Van Gaal. But the Dutchman, instead, played him at Centre Back in the absence of Marcus Rojo. There were a lot of supporters who felt that the Dutch national might not be a good option at the back but after putting some decent performances, Blind was arguably the best Center Back on the pitch against Barcelona. He was fabulous with his interceptions and clearances. If he keeps putting in such performances, who knows, he might be the one starting as the Centre Back , ahead of other players. Looking at how things have gone, Van Gaal seems to have immense confidence in Blind at Center Back.
Matteo Darmian might just be the best and the most crucial of all Summer Signings
Matteo Darmian, when signed by United, was admired by all for his pace and strong game reading capabilities. Both the attributes were on display against Barcelona. The Italian was as solid as a rock at the back but at the same time was posing a genuine threat while attacking too. The best example of this would be the whip from right flank to catch Rooney, only if the Captain could have had a better touch. His work rate was tremendous and he can own the Right Back position for several years if he keeps up his form and stay injury free. He has also displayed fearlessness while going in to the tackles and gives his all on the pitch.
U21 Brigade at its best
Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger, recently criticized Van Gaal’s united of not developing the homegrown talent. This game was a perfect answer to such silly questions. As soon as the squad was rotated at the 62nd minute, the pace of the game changed and rapidly so. The Barcelona defense was being broken at United Player’s will. Special mention to, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Adnan Januzaj. Pereira, in spite of not scoring, stood out with his ball control and swift movement. He was the one who started the attack with a pass to Tyler Blackett who assisted for the second goal scored by Lingard. Blackett also seems to have come a long way since last season. He too was extremely commanding yet composed on the ball and did not just panic while under pressure. It was good to see Januzaj sustain pressure and battle it out with the defender, rather than giving up, to score the final goal of the match. Van Gaal would be mighty proud of this display, especially by the youth of United, which seems to shine brighter every time.
Ashley Young still giving his all
Ashley Young, like he did in the previous season, has been giving his all on these preseason tours. His runs down the wing and clever co-ordination work with Luke Shaw has given United’s attack another dimension. Using the overlaps, Young or Shaw breaches the opposition’s box very often. One of the criticism that Young earlier faced was, the crosses that he made are ineffective as they not only beat the defender but also the United strikers. But things seem to be improving on that front too. With Angel Di Maria, almost gone, Young might have to fulfill this role on a longer term basis and looking at the current display, it ain’t such a bad idea.
Pedro seems to be a busy player
Pedro, who is linked to United recently, looked like a live wire on the pitch and could be seen everywhere. Some of his passes and crosses, while playing a wider role were simply exquisite. If United are indeed looking at the player to come to United, it would seem to be a good attacking addition to the team. Pedro is said to be a replacement of Di Maria but might also work by alongside him, that is if Di Maria stays.
The performances, though good, were not consistent ones. There was a moment of brilliance only to be followed by unjustifiable loss in possession. There were also cases when players just took long to make that one key pass, either rendering the striker offside or the attack toothless. Van Gaal and his team will have to work with the squad in order to get more consistent performances. Van Gaal himself, in his post match comments mentioned that the results of preseason matches will not matter as the actual performance against Spurs can give a better picture. One also hopes that the more they play with each other, better they will get. The last 25 minutes, when the substitutes came on, was the best and the most exciting period of the match. But the starting team did struggle a bit and also failed to keep the pressure continuously.
United would now look to build on the winning momentum and finish the tournament on a high, which would invariably mean that they will defend the cup. But the important part in all this would be, for the team to become a tighter unit and have better co-ordination by the end of the tour. If the team kept progressing the way they are, one must feel confident going in to the Premier League season this time.