It took weeks of filling time with transfer rumours and a lot of thumb twiddling but the pre-season kicks off tonight as we went up against MLS minnows New England Revolution to begin our first match of the pre-season. Sitting grim at the bottom of the MLS table, New England Revolution have not had the best run of form and sit without a win in 5; 3-3 vs Real Salt Lake, 2-1 loss vs Sounders, 1-1 vs Chicago Fire, 0-0 vs Toronto, 2-1 loss vs Red Bulls. It was a good match to start off with but it was something that SAF was obviously not taking lightly at all as he set out a strong side to start with, a team which included new signing Ashley Young:
Manchester United: Lindegaard, Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Fabio, Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Young, Rooney, Berbatov.
New England Revolution: Reis, Alston, Coria, Soares, Tierney, Nyassi, Phelan, Joseph, Boggs, Feilhaber, Lekic.
It is the first time we got to see our new signing in action, so we were all eagerly awaiting his christening in a United shirt. It is not just United fans who are excited about the game as well, with the whole of Boston bustling at the thought of playing United (can’t say I blame them). On the procession of the teams out of the tunnel, Vidic carried the Premier League trophy…a great reminder of the joy of winning number 19 last season.
Eyes were fixed on Ashley Young to see whether he could deliver on the consistency levels that he gave to Aston Villa over the past 4 years. He lined up wide right with Nani on the left, obviously SAF wanted both of them to cut in rather than whip in some balls. You could see from the get-go that Rooney was happy to involve him in play, dropping deep to send a fizzing pass out wide which let Young run at the defence. I expected the game to start off slowly as United found their feet but a full pitch length run from Fabio set the intentions from early on. One thing that was definitely noticeable was how Rooney and Young were dynamic in their positioning and were happy to switch between, something I hoped would happen because there is nothing more difficult for a defender than an ever-changing attacking situation. The longest time that New England Revolution had on the ball in the first 10 minutes was when a problem with the ball led to a bit of a delay, such was the early control of United.
United continued to press and looked the far more dangerous team on the attack, combined with a defence that was looking solid with Carrick sweeping up in front and the imperious Vidic controlling the box. A flash attack and a header from Joseph for New England Revolution nearly threw a spanner in the works but the diving header crept just past the post, a momentary lapse of concentration to an otherwise simple first 15 minutes. The first contribution from Berbatov came off a nice bit of link-up play with Rooney but his touch let him down as the ball crept away from him; the future of Berbatov is still up in the air I feel, with the Bulgarian still struggling for game time despite his prolific season last campaign. The best chance of the first 20 minutes fell to Rooney after some twisting and turning from Nani gave him the space to float a ball onto Rooney’s head but he lifted his effort just over the bar (maybe he was being conservative to protect his new hair line).
The game tentatively continued for a while as both teams struggled to string a complete move together but United, still looking more effervescent and vibrant, continued forward. A cross from Fabio and a glancing header from Berbatov was United’s next chance but nothing clear-cut was emerging; we seemed to be playing very wide football in the first 30 minutes, working the ball mainly to Young and letting him get his crosses in and to his praise, his success rate was great. A fantastic cross to Berbatov at the back post deserved a better finish from the Bulgarian but the pressure was mounting on the New England Revolution goal. Rooney obviously felt like getting the crowd riled up as he tried to whip out the City special and connect with an overhead kick in the 35th minute but alas, lightning didn’t strike twice and he didn’t manage to land a connection. Something that I want to point out here is the encouraging forward runs that Fabio and Rafael were doing in the first half, not only for their enthusiasm but for their success rate as well; they were adding to the attack a lot and gave United a plethora of options and available players throughout but we just couldn’t capitalise and finish off chances. Unsurprisingly, the next United chance came off the back of another Ashley Young cross but Berbatov lost his footing after Nani knocked it down to him and the chance fizzed out once again.
The best United moment came in the 40th minute after lovely link up play and a splitting ball from Rooney let Fabio through to cross to Berbatov, who done well to keep his shot low and on target but the keeper was equal to it and parried the shot out. Almost instantly, a swift run from Nani on the wing and a dink across to Rooney gave United a second chance in as many minutes but we still couldn’t find the net. It looked to be simply a matter of time before United hit the back of the net. Yet another shot from United came on the stroke of half time as Nani got on the end of a Fabio pass to force a neat save from the New England keeper but the teams went into half-time with the scores somehow still level at 0-0. It is fair to say that United looked most dangerous through Ashley Young, as he had a great opening 45 minutes and was the best player on the pitch in the first half; running at defenders, crossing, corners and quick feet, his resume bodes well for the future indeed.
Changes were expected for the second half and 3 happened before a ball was kicked with Ferdinand coming on for Vidic, Owen coming on for Rooney and Macheda coming on for Berbatov. Macheda had a great pre-season last time but struggled on his loan to Sampdoria. One has to imagine that this season he will have to show good growth for SAF to give him more chances at United, otherwise he may see him shipped off on loan again. The second half kicked off and United were looking to continue to improve on a strong but goalless first 45 minutes; with Owen now playing in the Rooney holding role, I have to say that play looked a bit more static but Young continued where he left off, running at the defenders but was unable to find himself some space for a shot. Then the breakthrough; in the 50th minute, off the back of a great team move and cutting pass from Michael Carrick, Owen passed it into the net with such an ease that you know he has done it a million times before. His finishing is still top class and you can see why SAF graced him with a 1-year contract extension, having been only on the pitch for 5 minutes before he put United ahead.
New England came at United and a long range drive from Joseph, seemingly the only attacking threat, stung the gloves of Lindegaard. United and Michael Carrick immediately bounced off the back of scoring their first goal and scored another wonderful goal; a brilliant lofted through-ball from Anderson let Carrick through and a simple ball to Macheda gave the Italian a chance to score and he didn’t miss, coolly slotting into the bottom corner. A flying start from United and their 2 striking substitutes seemed to have put the game past New England who were struggling to create anything and then, football as it is, New England stole a goal. A free-kick given for a player running into Ferdinand caught a wicked deflection off of Mansally sent Lindegaard the other way as the ball dribbled over the line. They say it is a game of 2 halves and the first 7 minutes of this one are just another case in point as the game was well and truly on.
Goals were now coming thick and fast as Macheda once again showed a clinical finish in the 60th minute. A short corner and a whipped cross from Rafael gave Macheda some space at the back post and he didn’t dwell on his laurels and fired into the opposite corner with his left foot. He looks hungry to prove he wants to stay at United and I think he deserves every chance he gets next season. The game was now wide open and it looked like anyone could score at any given point. He even had a hat-trick chance only 3 minutes later as Young, who showed he can cross with both feet, dropped the ball on his head but he couldn’t control his effort as he went over the bar. On the 65th minute, Young was replaced by Obertan and Nani was replaced by Giggs; I would call that an excellent debut for Ashley as he showed great movement, ability with both feet and a success rate on crosses and corners we have been craving for a long time. Nemanja Vidic to get double digits in goals next season on an outside bet? Worth it…back to the game.
Macheda Macheda Macheda. He is looking much sharper than his tweets and in the 67th minute, he worked a fantastic opening for himself with some great determination and footwork before unleashing another fierce left foot drive that was goalbound if it wasn’t for the goalkeeper’s flailing left hand. He has only been on the pitch for 25 minutes but could of scored 4 goals by now. Anderson even felt like getting in on the act with a cheeky shot but he has done his job nicely in solidifying the centre of the park, so well done Ando. All of a sudden, New England found acres of space and a quick shot from Mansally forced a neat save from Lindegaard. The game was now looking stretched in the last 20 minutes as tired legs became apparent and SAF obviously saw this, as he brought on Park for Carrick and Diouf for Anderson. Special mention goes out to Carrick who controlled his area of the pitch, even getting forward to get 2 assists to his name and it was the sort of Carrick that we all grew to love in the 2007/8 season, more of that Michael.
Diouf had his first chance in the 78th minute with a towering header off a Giggs’ corner but the keeper matched his effort. For me, I don’t think he has a spot at United next season and the cameo from Macheda has solidified my opinion. I think he might be shipped off on loan again next season, if not sold outright. Then, out of nowhere in the 80th minute, United scored the goal of the match; fantastic interlink play between Park, Giggs and Obertan (despite his efforts to ruin it) and a cool finish from Park put United 4-1 ahead. A typically wonderful chip from Giggs at the end of a 1-2 with Park looked glorious and was a great team goal, catch a replay of that one! After the fourth goal, the game slowed down to a calm end as United closed the game out without exerting anything that they didn’t need to.
Not a bad performance to start the pre-season off I’d say. The two stand-out performers from the match were undoubtedly Ashley Young and Federico Macheda; Young showed fantastic promise in the first half and Macheda was clinical in his finishing in the second. It felt really good to watch United once again and now that the pre-season is underway, we’ll be getting our fix of football on the regular once again. The next match is against Seattle Sounders in 7 days, so United will have a good rest before hand but tonight was a fantastic team performance that was worthy of the 4-1 winning margin in the end.