The “true” fourth game of Manchester United’s pre-season will take them to NRG Stadium in Texas to face Real Madrid on July 27, 1.30 AM BST.
United’s kids lost to Wrexham 1-3 at Snapdragon stadium but that result is unlikely to keep Erik ten Hag awake for long. The focus now shifts to the senior team as they ramp up their preparation for the season with a marquee game that is sure to draw a capacity crowd.
With so much history between these two iconic teams, the game is bound to be full of exciting storylines. Here are the top three to watch out for-
Kroos & Modric vs Casemiro
It is going to be particularly emotional for Real Madrid fans to see one-third of their iconic midfield trio suiting up against them.
The troika of Kroos-Casemiro-Modric was the base on which Madrid’s numerous trophies were built. Youth has taken over at Madrid, but the importance of veterans is not to be understated.
While at United, Casemiro has looked like a player reborn in a new environment.
United fans will be eager to see how their defensive midfielder, once the protector of Kroos and Modric, fares when up against their metronomic passing maze.
The raised profile of Kobbie Mainoo can be seen from the fact that he wasn’t a part of the academy group sent to play against Wrexham. It included the likes of Hannibal and Alvaro Fernandez, who have a full season of senior football under their belt and are two years older than Mainoo.
Clearly, the 18-year-old has leapfrogged his senior colleagues with a string of commanding performances in the middle this pre-season.
With his all-around game, he hasn’t looked out of place while playing alongside seasoned professionals who have been playing at this level for years.
With the test against Declan Rice passed with flying colours, now comes arguably the best midfield in the world.
Kroos and Modric have been covered already, but Mainoo will also be eager to make his mark against Jude Bellingham, who United were keen on signing.
Add Federico Valverde to the mix, and if Mainoo performs his magic in this game, the hype will reach fever pitch.
Mainoo mania is here!
Anthony Martial’s last chance saloon
Martial looked like a rejuvenated player early last season under Ten Hag but the same old injury worries prevented him from really kicking on and making the most of his potential.
His injury near the end of last season prevented him from taking part in this pre-season but an encouraging recent update on his health means a first appearance this season could be on the cards.
With his contract expiring next season, this truly is the last chance saloon for the French forward.
There has been reported interest from Saudi and Ten Hag’s public backing means nothing, as Harry Maguire and David de Gea can attest to.
United are going full steam ahead in their chase for Rasmus Hojlund and once his signing is secured, Martial is going to drop further down the order.
Add to that the reinvention of Jadon Sancho as the False 9, and Martial’s route to being a first-team starter is getting clogged further.
His best chance to resurrect his United career now is to take the game by the scruff of its neck in pre-season and single himself out as a reliable goalscoring option.
If not, then he could follow De Gea as the next high-earner to be out of Old Trafford upon the expiry of his contract in this new era of ruthlessness brought by Ten Hag.
The road to either destination could begin against Real Madrid.
Besides this, there are other storylines to keep an eye on as well. An exciting contest will be seen when Aaron Wan-Bissaka tries to play lockdown defence on Viniciur Jr.
Raphael Varane joins Casemiro in the list of players renewing acquaintance with their former club so he’ll be eager to impress too.
Unlike the Wrexham game, this game will have real stakes attached to it due to the prestige and quality of the opposition. It is a great chance for United to map their progress under Ten Hag by testing themselves against European royalty in front of a fierce crowd.