Manchester United was beaten 4-1 by Borussia Dortmund in their opening match of their pre-season tour of China in the International Champions Cup. The German side had played four matches in their pre-season campaign already, meaning they were much fitter – which could be seen in the majority of the match. United have been training for just under a fortnight, playing one match against Wigan Athletic, which they won 2-0 nearly a week ago. Because of the European Championships this summer, United was missing David De Gea, Chris Smalling and Wayne Rooney – who are on the tour, but not involved today. You also have Anthony Martial, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini and Matteo Darmian – who are not part of the tour, still on their holidays, so this pre-season was never going to involve the strongest Manchester United side, with youth given their chance to impress the manager ahead of the new season. Borussia Dortmund did not have many of their players appearing in tournaments this season, which made them much stronger in both fitness and personnel.
Memphis Depay is not a striker
At this stage of pre-season with Wayne Rooney not likely to feature, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial not on the China leg of the tour and Marcus Rashford also not meant to be playing (according to Jose Mourinho some weeks ago) instead of having Will Keane leading the line again, the Portuguese manager started Memphis Depay as the main striker. Memphis had a great season for PSV Eindhoven before he left for United last summer. Last season, he was not very penetrative on the wing, at least not after Luke Shaw was injured. The management style of Louis van Gaal may not have helped him either. I feel that a left-winger is where Memphis should play, but that is also a role Martial operates in, meaning he will most likely be picked over Memphis in the majority of matches. As a striker, Memphis was not the best today. It seems that he has bulked himself up during his summer break, which may take him a little more time to reach match fitness levels needed – which may see everything fall into its place with him. I am sure he could occupy a role on the right-wing if need be, but unless he improves as a striker, this will not be a role for him.
Sam Johnstone needs to get out there and get some experience
The former England U21 goalkeeper is a talent, but to hone the talent you have, you need to be tested regularly. There is a chance that Johnstone will be the third choice goalkeeper should he remain at Manchester United this summer. That would mean he may play the odd first team match, but he would play more in the reserves – which is not the testing he needs. He may spend a period of time out on loan, but with David De Gea at the club, there is not much chance that Johnstone will rival him for the number one jersey – unless the Spaniard was injured. United need to let him leave the club this summer or next – which is when his contract ends. This season a loan spell might work for him, providing it is to be the number one goalkeeper, not a backup. It is unfair for him to not play often, he could be a future England goalkeeper – but that chance could have gone for him even now. Today, Johnstone tried, but he just did not seem to be match ready (not that he would after only one appearance prior to today) but he just seems to be a wasted talent at the club at this moment in time. Perhaps United will sell him this summer, at the moment the club seems to be doing all they can to land the targets they want, meaning later this summer we could see many departures.
Eric Bailly is going to be a decent central defender
Two appearances under his belt and he seems to be a decent player. He is commanding on the ball and seems to have bags of energy, even in the humidity experienced in Shanghai. The Ivory Coast defender was Jose Mourinho’s first signing and he seems to be proud to wear the shirt. He’s already better than Phil Jones, but at the end of the day, that is not something which is hard to surpass, especially after Jones’ performance against Borussia Dortmund. Many think that for £30 million, you will get a world class defender – that might well be, but Bailly is young and needs to adapt and will then become world class. Rio Ferdinand may have been a better signing 14 years ago and a signing for then, but Jose Mourinho has seen something in Bailly, something that he likes and feels will benefit Manchester United. To be fair, he cannot be as bad as Jones and Marcos Rojo – both committed errors for United today, neither of them learning much from the game. Bailly will probably do well alongside Chris Smalling – perhaps we might see that on Monday against Manchester City, should the game go ahead.
Luke Shaw is looking determined to make this season count
After faltering in his first season at Manchester United, then suffering that double leg fracture at the start of his second season, Luke Shaw will be making sure his third season is the one where he defines himself and his role at the club. Last season was a lot for someone as young as him to get through, but he is here and seems to be stronger because of it. Against the German side, Shaw did well, especially in the humidity and with the state of the pitch – it was not the best. Shaw was one of United’s best defenders last season and he did complete the back four with Matteo Darmian (when he was in good form at the start of the season), Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Shaw completing the back four. Without Shaw, Marcos Rojo played in the left-back role and was great at getting forward, but his defending was questionable. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was one of the stand-out replacements when he was given the nod, but injury affected him at states too, and also stopped him from going on tour with the first team. Now that Shaw is back, and looking well after his ten-month absence, United can turn that corner, and become much better for it.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a player that United have needed for some time
The Armenian faced his former club today, scoring his first United goal, which will be a big thing for him. The result was not too good, but this is pre-season, you want to fluff your lines in the rehearsal, not when it matters. Mkhitaryan is a talented player and seems happy to be a Manchester United player. He is a player that United have been crying out for, a player that helps to complete the team. He can play in the number ten role, his better position, but also play on either flank or as a second striker. The right-win role may have been something United were lacking in last season, but with Mkhitaryan, they could have a player that will fill that void. Saying that, I feel he should be played in his favoured position, as that is where he player so well. He is an assist machine and also not scared to score a goal or two himself. Having him at United this season, under Mourinho will be a big boost. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing ahead of him, the partnership could be something to savour.
Many supporters will be disheartened that Manchester United were beaten 4-1 today. The opposition supporters will be full of themselves in the fact that United lost, even though the match means nothing. In Louis van Gaal’s first season, United won the International Champions Cup in Miami, beating Liverpool in the final. They won all of their matches, one on penalties, but lost their first game of the season. That just shows that pre-season does not matter. Not the results anyway. It is all about fitness and getting players ready for the new season. Those that crow about winning a trophy in pre-season, you know, the ones who like to brag about the Emirates Cup and then try and suggest it means something, they are the ones who care about winning in pre-season. Like Jose Mourinho said after the match, in pre-season, the team that wins is normally the fitter team. Borussia Dortmund had played four matches before beating United today, they are in much better shape physically and mentally and had the upper hand over United because of that. Also, the German side did not have as many players representing their countries in tournaments this summer. United were missing five who were not on the tour, with another three not involved in the match. They might not have all been starters in the team, but the likes of David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all players that would have given the German side a tougher match. United will now head into Monday’s match with Manchester City looking to change their fortunes. If they lose that one too, it is a learning curve which can give the manager and his assistants time to solve the problems. United with all of their players fit and ready to go is much stronger, and at the start of the season when that is the case, the club will be much better for it.