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.