Manchester United made it two wins from two on their pre-season tour of America, but Jose Mourinho’s men were made to work much harder for victory than in their opening 5-2 demolition of the LA Galaxy on Saturday.
Romelu Lukaku got his first United goal in his second appearance, a cool, composed finish which turned out to be the winner in a 2-1 triumph for the 10-man Reds, who saw Antonio Valencia harshly shown a straight red card in the second half.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan also continued his fine form across the pond with a well-taken goal to level the match after United had gone behind to Luis Silva’s opener – before delivering a delightful assist for Lukaku’s winner.
Here, we look at three things United and manager Mourinho can take away from this game…
He’s vilified by non-United fans as being ‘not very good’ and he even divides opinion among Reds fans, but he’s been one of the standout stars at the start of the US tour.
He’s bagged three assists in two games and at a time when most players are stepping up their fitness and searching for sharpness, the 24-year-old looks in peak condition.
The Warrington-born Lingard isn’t the sturdiest of players and is often chastised for his carelessness in possession, but he’s been bright in attack, dropping deep to receive the ball in midfield and distributing it well, while he looks like he’s been working on his defensive duties.
His tenacity saw him dispossess LA Galaxy defender Nathan Smith and set up Marcus Rashford for United’s opening goal on the tour after just 115 seconds before he cleverly teed up Marouane Fellaini to make it 3-0.
Against Real Salt Lake he welcomed possession at every opportunity and rarely wasted it, while his role in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s equaliser was a joy to behold. He was also involved in the build-up to Romelu Lukaku’s first United goal.
There were certainly areas of his game he needed to work on over the summer but the local lad is looking good.
With 15 draws recorded from their 38 Premier League games, taking chances was United’s biggest Achilles heel last season.
Despite forking out a world record fee to bring Paul Pogba back from Juventus and armed with an arsenal of attacking options, the Reds performed pitifully in front of goal – all five sides who finished above them in the Premier League scored more than their 54, as did Everton and even Bournemouth.
Profligacy was United’s greatest enemy. Despite a wealth of attacking talent, breaking down defences and creating chances – and finishing off the ones we did create – cost them dearly.
But in the first two games on tour, United have oozed quality going forward, with seven goals in two games.
Intricate one-touch passing between the lines involving Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and Andreas Pereira has been a feature as they have fed the frontmen of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford who have duly responded by finding the back of the net.
Despite last season’s woes in front of goal, failing to create and take chances has undermined United’s play in the seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
United have lost their cutting edge, but maybe, just maybe, that will change next season.
It’s been interesting to note Andreas Pereira’s two 45-minute displays in pre-season so far. The diminutive Brazilian featured in the second half of both games against LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake but whereas previous punctuated appearances for the Reds have seen the 21-year-old play in an attacking midfield, forward or wide role, he’s been deployed by Mourinho in central midfield in America, in a holding role.
Some United fans may find this perplexing but few will recall that when he actually arrived at Old Trafford from Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in 2011 it was as a defensive midfielder. He was converted into a more forward-thinking player due to his technical proficiency.
Mourinho’s inclusion of Pereira on the US tour is just reward for a fine season last year on loan with Granada in La Liga, while the No15 jersey he’s been wearing could be an indication of his first-team standing for the coming season.
He’s been calm and assured in possession, his ball retention – a glaring fault of his game in his formative United years – has visibly been honed during his time in Spain, while he also developed a taste for tackling last season too – winning 44 per cent of his duels. All these attributes could see him excel in a central midfield three.
Mourinho’s trialing of the youngster in that area of the field might also serve as an indication that, should he be satisfied with what he sees from Pereira on the tour, he might prefer to make him a permanent fixture of the first team squad and relinquish summer pursuits for specialist holding midfielders like Nemanja Matic and Eric Dier.
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