Five pre-season games, five wins. Fills you up with optimism, doesn’t it?
Since Louis Van Gaal was announced as the new United manager, before the World Cup in Brazil had started, we’ve been all full of excitement. As Holland progressed, many of us adopted them as ‘our’ team, and it was a joy to watch them finish third. Not many had thought they’d get that far, including most Dutch people. It was a somewhat successful tournament for them, as they progressed more than anticipated, mostly by playing entertaining football.
Van Gaal joined United pretty much straight after ending his commitments with his country’s national side, and showed he means business by lamenting the fact that the pre-season tour was in the U.S. as he would have preferred to get the players ready closer to home. He also had a few words about sponsors; something that I’m sure would have gone down well with Woodward and the Glazers.
When the first game of pre-season came along, little did we think that United would trash the L.A. Galaxy 7-0. Though the Galaxy were an average side at best, it was nice to see the team start with such a bang, and many positives were taken from the match. With Darren Fletcher as captain, Rooney got two goals, same as Young and James, with Welbeck getting the other. As many comparisons have already been made (with many more to come I’m sure) with David Moyes’ Manchester United, I’ll only mention the fact that when I saw this scoreline, all I could think about was that under Moyes, United might have scored three goals at most, than shut up shop to make sure they get a win, something that still didn’t work out too well last season.
Serie A runners-up Roma were up next in the first of the International Champions Cup games, and though United were under the cosh for most of the first half, they still managed to go in 3-0 up at half-time, with Rooney scoring another brace while Mata got the third goal with a deft chip over the keeper. Roma managed to pull two back in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to deny United a win.
The second game in this friendly competition was against another Italian side, Inter. Though the game ended 0-0, there were still a few interesting moments, not least seeing Nemanja Vidic in a different shirt after spending eight mostly successful years at United. It was also great to see our players score all five (very well taken) penalties in the shoot-out, making sure United got a second win in the ‘tournament’. From a personal point of view, I’ll always remember this game as the first one I watched with my eight year old daughter, who seems to have caught the football bug at last.
The squad then moved on to Michigan, to play European Champions Real Madrid. Though the Spanish side is behind English sides in its pre-season preparations, we expected a tough test. Over 109,000 fans, an attendance record for a football game in the U.S. watched United come out 3-1 winners with another impressive performance in which Ashley Young continued with his good form by scoring another two goals, with Chicharito making sure of another victory to take United into the final.
That was played in Miami against the Champions of England (at least they were in April), which meant that it would seem like more than a friendly. In fact there were a few hefty challenges. United started well, but after going behind from the penalty spot due to a silly challenge by Jones, the players looked all over the place and half-time couldn’t come quick enough. The second half was a different story, as United played a lot better and after scoring two goals in two minutes through captain for the night Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, they were mostly in control for the rest of the game, with youngster Jesse Lingard getting the third to make it 3-1 in the final few minutes.
Though just a ‘friendly’, it felt good to finish the ‘US Tour’ with a flourish, especially as it’s always nice to put eternal rivals in their place. Of course this match doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s always much better to win than lose, even when games don’t really matter, isn’t it?
Looking at the five games as a whole, it was very good to see many of the players taking their chance to shine. Young seems invigorated, and his crosses were much improved from last season; Herrera looks like he’s been at United for many years as he fit into the team very well already; Rooney looks a lot fitter and hungrier, and though I always said he shouldn’t be made captain, he impressed with the armband on against L’pool; The defenders did well too generally, though they’re still getting used to a new system under Van Gaal; youngsters who came in played very well (special mention to Tyler Blackett, who will probably get a few games this season); midfield seems a lot stronger with Fletcher there (here’s hoping he stays fit and well); AND United scored sixteen goals without Van Persie, which bodes well for when the Premier League starts in ten days (TEN DAYS!).
The squad is now back in England, and this is where the real/hard work starts. Some of the players will probably not be there for too long (Nani, I’m looking at you unfortunately), while a couple more will hopefully join as Van Gaal looks at who’s available and good enough to improve the side.
We now look forward to a friendly against Valencia at Old Trafford, before the league starts with a home game against Swansea.
As the season is upon us, we hope that most of you join us to read my thoughts and review every week, while we support the biggest club in England together…
COME ON UNITED!!!