It was a red rising rather than a blue moon as Manchester United made it three wins from three on their US pre-season with a 2-0 victory against Manchester City in Houston on Thursday.
They’d scored seven goals in two warm-ups against the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake previously, but the tour took a serious turn at NRG Stadium, not only because of the opposition, but because United are now into the International Champions Cup phase of the summer.
It was a fine win for United and Jose Mourinho, who saw summer signing Romelu Lukaku net for the second game running, while teenager Marcus Rashford also continued to prove his undoubted talent with a second soon after to set United up for two more mouthwatering fixtures to come, against Real Madrid in California on Sunday and Barcelona in Maryland to close out the US tour on Thursday.
Here, we look at three things Mourinho can take away from this game…
It’s hard to play down a 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s impact for Manchester United last season – 28 goals in 46 matches is some way to answer critics who didn’t think he could cut it in the Premier League.
But for all his brilliance in putting the ball in the back of the net, his effect on the team was minimal. Romelu Lukaku, like Ibrahimovic, has his detractors too. But in scoring his second United goal to make it 1-0 against City, you saw a glimpse of how the big Belgian and big Swede are polar opposites in terms of what they can do for their teams.
Both are a nightmare in one on one match-up situations for defenders, their physicality proving a near impossible conundrum to solve. But whereas Ibrahimovic will never beat you with his legs, Lukaku will stretch defences and cause them problems with his speed.
The goal typifies his impressive movement. Paul Pogba’s ball over the top gave him a chance and Red Rom chased it down superbly, showing his pace to get there ahead of two City defenders and goalkeeper Ederson. The finish wasn’t bad either.
It was an insight into what United will get this season from a striker who, for all his tremendous pace, power and goal-scoring ability, also works extremely hard.
Of course, at 35, it was perhaps too much to ask Ibrahimovic to make lung-busting runs down into the channels last season.
But with Lukaku able to do that, he offers United something they’ve been missing, probably since Javier Hernandez was sold to Bayern Leverkusen two summers ago.
Not to mention the space he’ll create for team-mates when he runs and takes defenders with him.
United continue to look slick as their pre-season opponents stepped a notch, and it’s always nice to win the derby – the first one played out of Manchester – but keep in mind this was City’s opening game of the summer.
True, United were impressive in their pre-season bow, surprisingly light years ahead of an LA Galaxy side in the middle of their MLS campaign. But City will be an entirely different prospect by the time the two sides face each other when it counts, on December 9 at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
Bernardo Silva, their marquee signing of the summer so far, played no part in Houston. Neither did Spanish string-puller David Silva, while the likes of forgotten men Eliaquim Mangala and Samir Nasri, who came on at half time, are unlikely to be in Pep Guardiola’s first team thoughts next season.
Home grown youngsters Oluwatosin Adarabioyo, Patrick Roberts and Phil Foden – the latter two stood out for City – also started the game but will also have to do something pretty special, you’d think, to remain part of Pep’s plans long term.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan looks like he’s in the mood to stamp his mark all over the Premier League next season, judging by the splash he has made across the pond in pre-season.
There were plenty of flashes of the brilliance United fans had come to expect from the Aremenian architect during his time in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund in his debut campaign in England.
There were plenty of brilliant assists and a smattering of goals too – who can forget the Scorpion kick strike against Sunderland on Boxing Day and six goals on the road to claiming the Europa League title, including the one to seal the win in the final against Ajax.
He took time to settle initially and was on the wrong end of a tongue-lashing or two from manager Mourinho, for ceding possession too easily and his lack of tracking back to help his defence. Attributes required of the Portuguese whatever your position.
But whereas Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial have found themselves in similar situations but continued to struggle for form and fitness, Mkhitaryan showed visible signs of improvement throughout his maiden ramble in red.
Two goals and two assists in three games in America so far suggest Mkhitaryan has no intention of making such a slow start to his second season at Old Trafford.
United have been impressive flowing forward against Galaxy, Real Salt Lake and City, again something that needs to improve on 2016/17. And Mkhitaryan has been chief creator, knitting all the attacks together to be the tour’s standout man so far.
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