It was by no means a stroll in the park, but Manchester United have emerged from their second pre-season clash as 2-1 winners over MLS side Real Salt Lake.
United didn’t try anything necessarily innovative today, instead preferring to keep the ball ticking over in a typical pre-season friendly.
As promised by Jose Mourinho, United switched to 4-3-3 which saw Phil Jones partner new signing Victor Lindelof, with Tim Fosu-Mensah and Daley Blind either side operating as full backs. Scott Mctominay was given an opportunity in the middle alongside Pogba and Carrick , whilst Lingard and Mkhitaryan supported lone-striker Lukaku. Young Portugese goalkeeper Joel Pereira started in between the sticks.
First 45 minutes
Unlike the Galaxy, Salt Lake started the match with their first choice team and it proved highly evident with the team being much more organised and capable of causing United problems at the back. They are a team in the midst of their Major-League Soccer campaign and it showed, giving United plenty of headaches right throughout the first half an hour. Manchester United looked uncomfortable at the back, especially Phil Jones who struggled to keep pace with Joao Plata and Luis Silva. United also looked very impotent in attack with just a handful of chances created in the first half.
The first goal of the match came through Luis Silva, who simply outpaced Phil Jones, beating him to the ball before slipping it past Joel Pereira for the opener. In the context of the match to that point, the goal was fully merited for Salt Lake. United however responded quickly with a nice intricate bit of play, with Lukaku laying it off to Lingard who slid in Mkhitaryan who finished excellently on his left foot on 28 minutes played. Let’s hope to see more of that next season from the Armenian. Real Salt Lake then changed their entire starting eleven after half an hour, Which United were able to take advantage of with Romelu Lukaku cleverly rounding the keeper to make it 2-1. It’s a goal that should certainly alleviate some pressure on the Belgians broad shoulders and is the start of what should be plenty more to come. United then continued to brigthen up a little and had a few more chances, with the likes of Mctominay registering shots on goal. They went in at the break 2-1 up.
Second 45 minutes
Following the break, United as expected switched their entire starting eleven with Romero replacing Joel Pereira in goal. The back four consisted of Valencia, Smalling, Bailly and Darmian, with Andreas Pereira holding the midfield next to Fellaini and Ander Herrera. Anthony Martial and Juan Mata manned the flanks in support of Marcus Rashford, who excelled in the last match.
The second half rather surprisingly was even more laboured than the first, with United still struggling to really craft out any chances of significant quality. Andrea Pereira looked composed and assured as the last outing in the number 6 role, and Anthony Martial looked bright in patches. Bad news arrived in the 58th minute however when Juan Mata took a knock and had to be replaced by youngster Demi Mitchell. United’s chances of scoring took a further hit when Antonio Valencia was bizarrely sent off for a fierce challenge, which saw straight red. This saw United change tactics slighly with Darmian coming across to right full back and Demi Mitchell going out to left back , leaving Rashford and Martial up front together. Salt Lake continued to have sniffs of goal and came very close to an equaliser, while for United, the only two chances of note were a Chris Smalling header going over the bar and Anthony Martial’s attempted shot from a cut-in being blazed wide.
This match proved a lot more challenging than the first for Jose Mourinho’s side. They were quite ordinary in both halves, looking devoid of inspiration in attack and certainly uncomfortable in defence in the first half. Whether this performance was the result of fatigue from the last match only 48 hours prior, the altitude Mourinho mentioned, or the quality of opposition being better, United ultimately struggled to replicate the high-pressing, all energy performance of the Galaxy win. However this match will ultimately prove more valuable towards the preparations for next season. United were properly tested today in every sense and made mistakes, which is important because it gives the players more to work on during the preseason period. In 2014 and 2015 under Van Gaal, United played almost perfect, total football which wasn’t an accurate representation of United in both of those respective seasons. Another positive is the minutes which were given to pretty much every player not only today but against Galaxy too. Youngsters Demi Mitchell and Scott Mctominay also saw plenty of action and Romelu Lukaku’s goal will give him plenty of confidence going into the next match against Manchester City in Houston. It wasn’t the prettiest spectacle but United got the win and also have been given plenty to improve on.
Goals: United 2 ( Mkhitaryan 28′; Lukaku 39′) Real Salt Lake 1 (Silva, 26′)
Best: Lukaku, Pereira, Lingard, Martial