Manchester United v Wigan (Community Shield 2013)

There can’t have been many times down the years when this match has been contested by two teams in different leagues but with Wigan now being a Championship side, that’s exactly what we have here.

It also represents something of a new beginning for both clubs as both have different managers to the ones who were in charge last season.

David Moyes, of course, left Everton to become our manager whilst Roberto Martinez left Wigan to take Moyes’ old job at Everton and now Owen Coyle is in charge of Wigan.

We contested this match many times during Fergie’s reign but it was normally against one of our bitter rivals such as Chelsea or Arsenal so there was always a bit of an edge to it even though it was still largely considered a “friendly” as we didn’t want to concede any early ground to a team who we would likely be battling hard against for the Premier League title for the following nine months or so.

That isn’t there this year and unless we happen to draw them in a Cup competition, this will be the last we’ll see of Wigan for at least another twelve months.

From our point of view though, after a somewhat underwhelming pre-season, it will be nice to see us actually put in a performance here.

We have a tough start to the Premier League campaign and I’m sure Moyes is fully aware that the honeymoon is now over and it’s time to show everyone that we’re ready to win again.

I don’t think it’s worth dwelling too much on what may or may not happen in this match. Amid a lot of uncertainty about both teams, it’s a one-off at Wembley and both teams will be wanting to win – that much I do know.

Another thing I know is that our record against Wigan is exceptional and I’d expect us to continue that record today.

Barcelona 0 – 0 Man Utd

After me saying before this pre-season started how much I enjoy these pre-season tours for the attacking flair we show and the goals we score, this pre-season has been notable for the number of goals we HAVEN’T scored.

Perhaps we could have been forgiven in this one and we probably deserve a pat on the back for preventing Barca from scoring any of their own because make no mistake about it – Barca started with the likes of Messi and Iniesta in the line-up and whilst there was mostly an air of “friendly” about it, I’d say that this was 90% full-power for both sides in the first half.

Barca started the match looking their usual impressive selves and we found it hard to even get into their half without playing long balls from the back but opportunities to do even that were few and far between because of Barca’s ball retention.

However, we could have taken the lead and won this after Nani was tripped in the box to provide Rooney with a chance from the spot which he failed to convert.

In the end, the match ended 0-0 meaning we had to go to penalties which Barca won 2-0 after Nani and Young both failed to score from the spot in a reduced shoot-out.

The lack of goals is a worry though and with just ten days to go until we kick-off the new season, it would be nice to see our attacking players grab a couple in our last game of pre-season tomorrow evening when we face Hannover.

Ajax Cape Town 1 – 1 Man Utd

Well, this was a great workout for the lads as this game started off at 100mph! It was like watching a Premier League game on drugs for most of the first half.

Ajax Cape Town were clearly a class above our last opponents but generally, we coped very well with everything they had to offer and we enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession.

It was either one of the best goals you’ll ever see or a bit of a fluke that gave them a 1-0 lead with just five minutes or so left to play – depending on how you wish to look at it. The Ajax player basically back-heeled the ball into the net but it was a looping back-heel that went over the keeper and into the net.

Our saviour in the final minute to rescue the draw was none other than Bebe who still generally looks below par but showed great composure for his finish.

We probably should have won this one given the possession and chances we had but, as is said over and over, these games are not really about the result and a draw was probably fair in the end.

The big news for this one was Kagawa starting and getting a good eighty minutes or so and I have to say that he looks good on this evidence.

I’ve already mentioned that the game was played at breakneck speed but class players can play in these type of games and still appear to have plenty of time and that was Kagawa. He looks very composed and just about everything he did had quality about it. He was very nearly rewarded with a goal but his headed effort just shaved the post.

He seems a no nonsense player. He gets the ball, looks up, weighs his options and plays the ball. Nothing fancy but always effective. He also looked like he’d been a United player for years which is always a good sign in a new arrival.

Our other new signing Nick Powell also got a few minutes towards the end of the game but one or two nice touches apart, this was an unspectacular debut and was clearly just about giving him a few minutes as a United player and I have no doubt that the best is yet to come from the lad.

Hernandez got to start again and whilst he still looks a little off the pace, he looked a little better than he did in our first game so hopefully he continues to improve so that by the start of the season, he’s firing on all cylinders again.

Valencia got a start in this one and looked like he’d never been away. Another great season looks to be on the cards for our best player of last season.

All in all, this was a much more entertaining game than the first. The goals aren’t really flowing as they normally do in pre-season but I have to keep reminding myself that we’re basically playing these games with sides that have been cobbled together as around 14 of the big name players have not even travelled for one reason or another.

Amazulu FC 0 – 1 Man Utd

This was the first game of our 2012 pre-season tour and you could tell. Due to a significant number of absencies for a variety of reasons, Fergie already had his hands tied with personnel to a large extent and the starting line-up for this one will probably never be seen again but it was interesting, if unspectacular, nonetheless.

Berbatov was given a deeper role “in the hole” behind Hernandez and Macheda and put on a masterful performance which was very nearly rewarded with one of the best goals you’ll see all year when his 25 yard volley from a corner was just tipped over by the Amazulu goalkeeper.

It does seem, however, that Berba is finally on his way out of Old Trafford and if that’s the case then any would-be suitors will surely have been urged to get their cheque-books out after watching this.

Macheda was the one to score the game’s solitary goal and had chances to add to his tally but overall, he did well. Doing well during pre-season is what Macheda does well, though and it will be interesting to see where he is in around a month’s time.

Chicharito showed a bit of rustiness in this one. Several times, he mistimed his runs to find himself needlessly offside and whereas he always seemed to find himself in just the right place at just the right time a couple of years ago, the opposite was true for this match. Still, he’ll surely get a few more chances during this pre-season tour and can only get better.

The eye-catcher amongst a crop of youngsters played here was Jesse Lingard who looked positive and comfortable out there. It’s probably unwise to get too carried away with a young midfielder at this stage but at 19 years of age, he certainly has at least a couple of years at United ahead of him. I can see a loan move for him coming up and I’m sure there’ll be a number of interested parties.

New signing Kagawa was stripped off and ready to come on for the final ten minutes but there was no stoppage in play for a good five or six minutes which meant that by the time he did make his appearance, the game was virtually over. I suspect he’ll start in the next game though which will be good to see.

Overall, this one was very much an easing back into playing again. It wasn’t the most exciting match to watch. Amazulu were organised, hard working and fit but they just lacked a bit of class and composure in the final third (the number of long-range shots they attempted was crazy).

Still, it’s good to see the lads back out there. The countdown to the season “proper” has begun!

Man City v Man Utd Community Shield

United will be hoping to continue their fine pre-season form with a win against City this afternoon in the Community Shield whilst United fans will just be hoping that we actually turn up and play this time, unlike the last time we met at Wembley in last season’s FA Cup Semi-Final.

Guessing either team for this one is a tough task and it will be interesting to see if Fergie retains the confidence in the younger players that he showed in our USA Tour matches. I would guess that one of either Smalling or Jones might line up with Vidic in central defence but we might just see a more experienced line-up this afternoon.

My own guess is De Gea, Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Giggs, Young, Rooney and Berbatov.

It’s obviously far too early to make confident predictions as to what will happen here and I intend to just watch and enjoy the game without putting too much emphasis on the result.

However, I think  a small bet on a low scoring affair might be in order.

The bet is 2 points Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.70 with Bet365.

MLS All-Stars 0 – 4 Manchester United

Despite one little experiment, the team Fergie went with here bore a closer resemblance to that which we might actually see during the season here with Lindegaard in goal, Evra on the left, Rio and Vidic in central defence and a bit of an eyebrow-raiser with Phil Jones on the right of defence.

The midfield had Young on the left, Park on the right and Carrick and Anderson in the middle. Up front was Berbatov and Rooney.

The match started off looking like it could be an evenly matched contest with both sides showing some good attacking intent and our old friend Mr Beckham had a great strike saved after just around seven minutes. Incidentally, a note on Beckham is probably warranted at this juncture because, despite bobbing on a bit these days, his passing ability remains incredible and some of the long balls he was pinging around in this game plus the fact that he played the full ninety minutes here made me realise that he could still do a job for United – even if only on a very short term loan type arrangement (such as he had with AC Milan the other season) and even if only for occasional fixtures (much like, dare I say it, the now departed Scholes?).

It won’t happen though – which is a shame for all concerned, I think.

Anyway, back to the game…

Much of the opening twenty minutes or so was spent sparring with both teams creating chances but the defences were holding firm but United made the breakthrough in the twentieth minute with a little passage of passes between Rooney and Berbatov which left the All-Stars’ defence bewildered – especially when Rooney pulled the ball back for Anderson to bury the ball in the bottom left corner of the net and, after becoming a bit of a joke with his lack of goals, Anderson finally seems to have turned the corner now and his goal was taken with calm aplomb. Say it quietly but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Anderson score five or so goals in the coming season, if he gets 25-30 games.

Shortly after this goal, Beckham had another long-range fizzer saved by Lindegaard and our other old friend, Thierry Henry was making a bit of a nuisance of himself but he’s no longer the player he was during his Arsenal peak, I’m afraid. It did look like the All-Stars would get themselves back into the match before half-time though and Lindegaard was called into action several more times before the half-time whistle but there was a sting in the tail of this half as United scored just before the whistle thanks to an excellent bit of solo work for Ji Sung Park.

Apparently, the 30 year old Korean is currently in negotiations to keep him at Old Trafford for another two years beyond his current deal (which runs out next summer) and I do hope that they’re able to sort something out with him because he has proven his worth ten times over during his time here and he’s been excellent during this tour and, in this match in particular, he was probably one of the best players on the pitch – popping up on the wing, in the middle, in defence and up-front – he was everywhere and was almost like having a twelfth man at times.

As the teams got ready to come out for the second half, both managers made changes. Amos for Lindegaard was out big change at half-time but the All-Stars made four changes to outfield players with Kyle Beckerman being the most eye-catching of the second-half subs.

Six minutes after half-time, Rooney played Berbatov through who attempted to chip it over the keeper – he succeeded in that but only hit the crossbar which meant that he had to gather the rebound on his chest before volleying in to make it 3-0. That was his first of the tour and the smile was back on his face!

On around the hour mark, Fergie decided to make some wholesale changes as Rooney, Ferdinand, Berbatov, Young, Park and Carrick being replaced by Welbeck, Smalling, Owen, Nani, Macheda and Cleverly.

Again, Welbeck did well and really does seem to have come on leaps and bounds over the last 12-18 months. Cleverly remains something of an enigma and Macheda still looks very raw to me.

Welbeck got his reward after around eight minutes of being on the pitch when he scored our fourth and final goal. It was an massively deflected shot which gave the keeper no chance but the positivity shown by Welbeck to create the space and then take the shot on was deserving of the goal.

Anyway, the rest of the game was really just going through the motions. United’s defence was the equal of whatever the All-Stars threw at them and the same could be said the other way around but we probably had our weakest attacking line-up on the field by the time the match ended. Besides, you can’t ask for too much more than 4-0 – that’s a convincing victory in anyone’s book.

And so the tour comes to an end as far as the USA teams are concerned but we still have one more game to play on the tour… a little matter of Barcelona on Saturday night!

The Stars Are Coming Out Tonight

Manchester United continue with their Tour of the USA tonight with a match against the MLS All-Stars, which, of course, is a team made up of some of the “big names” in the MLS.

We played an All-Star Eleven this time last year and won that one 5-2 but tonight’s game could be a tougher test than that one and with stars such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry likely to feature, there really is some quality talent in the ranks this year.

The match kicks off at around 2am here in the UK (9pm local time) and will be shown live on MUTV. I haven’t decided if I’m going to stay up and watch it or record it for tomorrow but I’ll be reporting on the game at some point tomorrow.

Should be interesting.

Chicago Fire 1 – 3 Manchester United

Very difficult to know exactly what to make of this one as Fergie started with a line-up we surely won’t be seeing too often again in the coming season – it was one of the youngest United elevens we’d seen for a long time.

De Gea got his debut in goal and was accompanied in defence by Smalling, Jones (also making his debut), Fabio and Evra which, were it not for Evra, must be one of the average youngest ever defensive units fielded by Manchester United!

The midfield was interesting, however with Welbeck, Cleverly, Carrick and Obertan (for another largely youthful section) and then Diouf and Berbatov up front.

The first half started out lively enough, despite the sweltering heat with United sometimes creating some decent openings which weren’t used to full advantage but Chicago Fire played their part extremely well but it was still something of a shock when they took the lead after thirteen minutes through a deftly-headed goal from a defender (Gibbs) from a free-kick – apparently his first goal in twelve months with the club which gave De Gea no chance.

Following this little wake up call, United huffed and puffed a bit but still couldn’t make the breakthrough but even by this stage the players had worked up the kind of sweat that usually takes a good seventy minutes to work up here in England and it was obvious that any player carrying a few summer pounds would be working them off and then some in this game. It was going to be a very good work-out, if nothing else.

By the time the half-time whistle came, the score remained at 1-0 to the Fire (could have been 2-0 but for a great De Gea save just before half-time) but we’d had a few half-chances which weren’t taken but it was time for Fergie to start making the substitutions. However, there had been four players in the first half who are perhaps playing to stake a claim for when the season starts proper and these were Cleverly, Welbeck, Obertan and Diouf and I must say that of the four, Welbeck stood out by a mile. Diouf wasn’t given an awful lot to feed on but Obertan was fairly impressive in what he did but he still shows a lack of composure at critical times for me. The one who would probably want to play this game again was Cleverly because I didn’t think he did his case any favours with his display in this game which is a shame because he has something about him but he didn’t really show it here, playing some poor passes at times which, for a team which is supposedly lacking in midfield talent, is surely crying out for one of the younger players to come through and take the bull by the horns. On this evidence, Cleverly still isn’t the man to fill the void but I do hope he gets another chance during this pre-season tour.

I suppose I should have lumped Phil Jones into that group but he really does look like the business to me. He perhaps could have been a bit more alert to the danger for the goal (he was on the wrong side of the attacker when the ball was headed home) but apart from that, there wasn’t anything to fault him about and he’s surely going to join the ranks of excellent defenders that Fergie has signed over the last twenty-five years.

One slightly worrying thing I saw from Berbatov in this half was that he seemed to be back to his moany old self. During last summer’s pre-season tour, he was playing with a smile on his face, scoring goals and generally looking happy with life, football and the universe but in this match he was giving it out to everyone for not playing the exact ball he required again. He played much better at the start of last season due to this new-found demeanour but it doesn’t bode too well if he’s getting upset at this stage of pre-season. I’d like to see him get back to where he was last summer. Of course, he showed his qualities in this match – his magnet-like ability to retain possession of the ball was in full force but, as often happens, it rarely came to anything and I’m afraid that I can see Berba playing third or even fourth fiddle in the coming season.

Anyway, as the second half got underway Fergie made the expected changes with five players being taken off (Fabio, Cleverly, Berbatov, Carrick, Diouf making way for Evans, Anderson, Giggs, Rooney and Park) to give the side a much more experienced feel to it. Perhaps, interestingly, Fergie wanted to see a little bit more of Welbeck and Obertan.

Within two minutes of the restart, Smalling found himself up front and scored a cracking goal – unfortunately, he was slightly offside and the goal was disallowed (it was extremely marginal) but it really was a cracking finish which any striker would have been proud of.

We got away with it after around fifty-two minutes as Chicago Fire missed an absolute sitter which really should have been buried to make it 2-0 and so, despite making umpteen changes of their own at half time (if I remember correctly, it was nine!), Chicago Fire were still proving a decent match for United and as the clock ticked away, they were the ones making the better chances.

At this point, Fergie made more changes with Obertan, Welbeck and Evra going off for Nani, Macheda and Ferdinand. Evans switched to left-back with Jones and Ferdinand in the centre of defence.

But still the breakthrough for United seemed a long way away as the minutes ticked on to the hour mark whilst Chicago Fire were creating some very decent chances which we were somewhat lucky to get away with unscathed and this was becoming a bit worrying as the clock hit sixty-five minutes.

But then Rio Ferdinand produced a great bit of skill to create a bit of space for himself before launching an inch-perfect long pass for Rooney who deftly lobbed over the advancing keeper for the ball to drop into the net. 1-1 was the score but given our lack of chances so far, another Chicago Fire draw wasn’t out of the question at this stage.

However, there was a sense that the players on the pitch at this stage were finally warming to the task as the experience was beginning to tell compared to the much-subbed opposition.

Nani, Rooney, Giggs and Park in particular were beginning to shape themselves into a decent attacking/midfield force.

However, we had to wait for yet more Fergie changes as Jones and Smalling made way for Rafael and Vidic before the real breakthrough came about because a mere 47 seconds had elapsed before Rafael made one of his trademark surging runs into the box before knocking the ball through the eye of a needle (between the keepers legs to be precise) to put us 2-1 ahead after a great move in which the Brazilian proved instrumental.

It looked for a little while that this might be it as both teams were cancelling each other out at this stage but Nani had other ideas. He got a bit of luck with a ricochet but finished superbly to make it 3-1 to United after about 81 minutes to complete a total smash and grab for United.

And this was the way it ended. 3-1 to United.

Again, if I have to be critical, I have to point to our defence which at times look very dodgy and our midfield which really should be dominating against this kind of opposition, but they didn’t.

And so we move through this pre-season with three matches and three wins but we owe much to our strength in depth and the American’s lack of strength in depth.

But still, three games, three wins, 14 goals scored with only two in the opposite direction in some testing conditions… it’s looking good so far but I feel that the next game against the MLS Allstars might actually prove a real test and Fergie will need to make some kind of stance with his first choice eleven for that one.


Matchsticks at the Ready, It’s Chicago Fire!

Another late night lies ahead for UK-based Manchester United fans tonight as we press on with the US Tour 2011 with our third match of the tour against Chicago Fire. It’s not as late as the last one and should kick-off at around 12 midnight here in the UK. You can watch the match live on MUTV.

Incidentally, I don’t know how many have noticed but MUTV have been free-to-air for the build-ups to the matches this summer which, for any of you who haven’t subscribed to MUTV, gives a taste of what the channel is like before going back to encrypted when the match kicks off. The channel is 406 on Sky so check it out if you haven’t done so already.

Anyway, as with all of these MLS based teams, I can write what I really know about them on the back of the matchbox which holds the matches I’ll be wedging between my eyelids tonight but from what I can gather, the club is aptly named as temperatures soared to 100 degrees when the players touched down in Chicago so it could well be a stamina-sapping furnace out there when we take them on today as it will be 4pm local time when the match kicks off.

Looking at their league table, they’re in the same league as our first opponents of this tour, New England Revolution, but currently sit one place below them and second-bottom of the league, largely due to the fact that they draw so many games – they have drawn twelve of their twenty matches played, winning just two.

However, if our goalscoring form continues as it has during this pre-season then I think they’ll be hard pushed to get another draw tonight.

Of special interest to United fans tonight is the fact that David de Gea looks set to start and one or two of the other younger players who have so far been rested could well make an appearance so it could be a less experienced and less conventional United line-up – the teams Fergie has put out so far have been fairly close to what we might expect to actually see when the season starts proper but I suspect there’ll be some big changes tonight.

It promises to be another entertaining game though and I’ll be reporting on the outcome and the performance tomorrow.

Seattle Sounders 0 – 7 Man Utd

Well, I intended to watch this match yesterday morning and post on it yesterday afternoon but, with the school holidays kicking in, I forgot just how demanding kids freed for the summer can be so I had to wait until they’d gone to bed before I could watch it! However, I couldn’t resist looking at the score and when I saw the scoreline, I couldn’t believe my eyes. We  must have played a blinder!?

Well… to be honest… not quite. I do have to keep reminding myself that this is only pre-season and it is about fitness and trying things out more than the performances or even the scorelines but I thought we actually looked quite sloppy and disjointed in this match and Seattle must have left the pitch not only wondering why they had conceded seven but wondering more how they had completely failed to score even one because, make no mistake about it, they could have had five or six of their own.

Some of our defending was sloppy and poor but, thankfully, our strikers were totally on the ball. For Seattle’s part, their defence was often sloppy but, crucially, their strikers weren’t up to much and on the few occasions where they hit the target, our keepers were exceptional.

And I think this is what can be taken from the game – we started with Lindegaard (who was extremely good again) and then Ben Amos came on in the second half who was also excellent (although a dodgy minute towards the end when he played a sloppy pass to Ferdinand (which ended with Ferdinand getting injured through over-stretching) didn’t do him too many favours) but that would probably be nitpicking.

What this all means is that we do appear to have three top young keepers fighting for the place of Van Der Sar and I’m afraid I can’t see much room for Kuszczak – all three look more composed than him to be perfectly honest.

I suspect Amos remains third choice but Lindegaard has done himself no harm in the opening couple of games of this pre-season and De Gea will have to go some to displace him as things stand – the good news for him is that he will probably get his chance to shine when we play our next pre-season game this weekend.

As for everyone else on show here tonight… well, it has to be said that the half-time score was 1-0 to United following a Michael Owen goal after he was criminally left in acres of space to nod home a fantastic cross on the run/fall from Evra (who had, in turn, been played in by an impressive ball from the continually impressive Young) and then Seattle made umpteen changes at half time as they obviously have the important MLS campaign to consider and this made the second half slightly different.

It was at half time that Wayne Rooney came on and he scored a well-taken hat-trick but after around 50 minutes the scoreline was 3-0 to United after both Diouf and Rooney had scored which, of course, made Seattle stretch a bit for a goal back, leading to openings for us.

All the United goals (Owen, Diouf, Rooney x 3, Obertan and Park) were very well taken and this was basically the difference between the two sides. Had Seattle possessed our quality of attacker then I am convinced they would have scored a fair few of their own as our defence got by by the skin of their teeth at times.

The midfield remains something of a problem but I thought Park was excellent with his workrate and I’m sure Rooney loves playing alongside him as the two have the same work ethic and definitely seem to have a great understanding and respect for each other (this was illustrated beautifully for Park’s goal when Rooney saw him coming in and allowed the ball to run through to him, knowing he would tuck it away – even though Rooney was on a hat-trick at that point).

Anderson is being given plenty of opportunity to show that he is the man we need in the centre of the park but he remains a mixed bag for me.

Carrick came on in the second half and, I think, added some composure but it was Giggs who started and, despite his greatness and experience, I still find something slightly worrying about this, despite his re-invention over the last few years, he still doesn’t strike me as one of the world’s greatest midfielders, I still think we need someone of proven top quality in the position.

But, as I say, I have to remind myself that this is pre-season and it’s only our second game of the tour and so far we have scored eleven goals and have conceded just one. The difference in class is palpable when it comes to United vs America but it has to be remembered that the last game of this tour is against Barcelona and that could be interesting.

Jeez… am I the biggest moaner of all time? We’ve just won 7-0 and I’m picking fault! 🙂