Chris Smalling may have won the official media vote-in for the man of the match, but the star of the show who led Manchester United to a 0-0 draw and a eventual 5-3 penalty kicks win over Inter Milan on Tuesday night was midfielder Darren Fletcher.
Fletcher, wearing the captain’s arm band for the second time in three matches this pre-season for Louis Van Gaal played the entire 90 and looked great every step of the way. His passing was magnificent, which almost led to several goals. As good as he was with his passing and poise in midfield, his game was even greater defensively. Fletcher’s defensive actions were top class, mid-season form which really contained Inter Milan from creating much at all.
United was also perfect from the penalty spot. It has been noted by journalists travelling with the club that Van Gaal has them practising penalty kicks on a daily basis, and practice made perfect tonight with a 5-5 showing. Fletcher, on top of everything else he did tonight, ended the scoring in the 5th round by scoring the game winning goal. A nice reward by Van Gaal to allow Fletcher take the last shot.
Despite going into a penalty kick shoot-out, the better team won on this night in the United States capital of Washington D.C.
According to the boss Van Gaal, United played it’s best game so far of pre-season. That shouldn’t be too surprising, as United used a lineup similar to the one that beat up on Los Angeles last week 7-0. New tactics and chemistry take time. Not only have these players had time to work with each other, but also had some in-game action together as well.
What I liked….
As expected by Van Gaal’s comments prior to the match, Wilfried Zaha made his pre-season debut as a half-time sub. Despite his lack of finishing issues, which seem to come easy to him at the Championship level, still come troublesome for him. And tonight was no different as he held onto the ball too long several times. But, that aside, Zaha played with a different attitude. He brought pace and was aggressive. He created offence for United and wasn’t just a standby. If Zaha plays the way he did tonight with the full-starters, he surly will see more open space and some of those tough chances which he missed on, might be made easier.
Another player who seems to be in Van Gaal’s doghouse already Luke Shaw also played and did well. Van Gaal revealed after the match the only reason Shaw played was due to an injury to Reece James. Whatever the reason for Shaw’s appearance was is irrelevant, because surely Shaw made an impression on his coach. Shaw showed great pace down the left side, winning balls and great hustle to win balls. Like Zaha, Shaw came in as a half-time sub. Will be interesting to see if Shaw has earned any time against Real Madrid on Saturday.
The defense overall looked sharp. They didn’t give Inter Milan too much space and chances were few and far inbetween. Second half goalkeeper David De Gea only needed to make one quality save in his 45-minutes of work. The under-the-radar defender that keeps impressing is Tyler Blackett. He took attackers on and was fearless. Didn’t give any ground up at all, despite only Chris Smalling remaining on defense from the game’s starting XI. Blackett played 45 minutes vs. Los Angeles, 90 against Roma and again a 45 today. It’s possible Blackett would have received several man of the match awards if it wasn’t for the tournament rule of only players over the age of 21 can be eligible, due to the tournament being sponsored by a beer company and 21 years old is the United States law for minimum drinking age.
What I didn’t like….
Newly signed midfielder Ander Herrera seemed to be out of his elements. He looked weak on the ball, and soft in challenges. Often falling down or losing the ball when Inter Milan defenders attacked him directly. Herrera was outstanding against Los Angeles but has struggled the last two matches. Tonight, Herrera was the weak link in the first half for United. Rarely helping provide assistance for the attack. It will be interesting to see how Van Gaal handles the situation. Fletcher has earned more time and it’s clear he is trying everything he can to place Tom Cleverley in a successful spot. If Van Gaal doesn’t start Herrera against Madrid, i think we will all know, Van Gaal is getting worried about his new pricey acquisition as well.
The referee Edvin Juisevic lost control of the match. This was an exciting pre-season match. Exciting action and great tempo. Not your typical 0-0 draw. But, the match got chippy, and possibly too chippy. Players such as Herrera, Valencia, Javier Hernandez, Cleverley and Zaha constantly getting thrown to the ground. Even Van Gaal got up from his seat in the second half and yelled at the referee after a tackle on Cleverely. The officiating was poor for both sides and United got rough as well. Games are meant to be exciting and pre-season is valuable for it’s own reasons, working on fitness, tactics, ect, but the matches are not meant to be played with the intensity that this game was played at and Juisevic really risked allowing injuries to some players. Luckily, nobody got hurt.
United’s next match on it’s pre-season tour of the United States is against Real Madrid in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Saturday (4pm local, 9pm UK). A crowd of about 110k is expected. Real Madrid lost to Roma later on Tuesday night 0-1.
Updated: Group A International Champions Cup Standings:
1. Manchester United 5pts
2. Real Madrid 3pts
3. Inter Milan 3pts
4. Real Madrid 1pt