Analysis and Observations: Authoritative Manchester United excel as a unit
United 3-2 Manchester City
Just a friendly, you say? Of course, but that hardly matters; it was the performance alone which was enough to fuel excitement ahead of the new season. At first, it was simply frustrating as Manchester United failed to convert. And even more frustrating when they conceded two cheap goals. Then breathtaking. One thing for sure, these 90 minutes – or United’s 85 minutes of dominance – was the embodiment of something good. Against a team supposedly strong enough to win the title, this game saw the Red Devils prevail in the mental battle. Quite vital when you consider that the 11/12 campaign is less than a week away.
United show power through the flanks. When you contemplate the inflated prices in the transfer market these days, £16million for Ashley Young looks a steal. Historically, United have always had a whole host of competent wingers and Young appears to be a fine addition. Here, he displayed great verve down the flanks and drifted in when he needed to, reducing the workload of both Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck at the same time. And, with United two goals down, he delivered a fantastic cross from a free-kick which allowed Chris Smalling to score setting United up for the rest of the game.
With Young making a good impression on the left, Nani enjoyed a good game on the opposite flank. He had made a good start but, at times, was kept quiet by City’s full backs. However, as so typical of the Portuguese winger, he excelled when United needed him most and led them on their fightback. A beautiful interchange in the box had allowed Nani to stroke home and equalise – setting the tone for the last half hour where United charged at City’s back four with much authority. Quite predictably, they found their third in stoppage time. Nani, the source of it as he dispossessed Vincent Kompany on the halfway line and then coolly rounded Joe Hart. And, after a terrific campaign last year, it was barely a shock.
Cleverley’s, er, genius, shines through. As the team has always prided itself in having great depth, Manchester United may need to sign another central midfielder in the summer window as they appear to be a little short on number. However, Tom Cleverley gave a timely reminder of his worth here at Wembley – evidently, his loan spell at Wigan Athetic has paid dividends. With United two goals down at the half time, they needed a change of personnel – not because they were playing badly, in fact they were easily the better team, but confidence had obviously been shot.
Who knows? Had Michael Carrick been fully fit coming into this game, he might have played on. As it happened, Cleverley replaced him and he instantly got into the game, stringing passes together and showing adventure whenever possible. He created a half-chance for Danny Welbeck immediately, before going on to assist the second. Here, Cleverley forged a good partnership with Anderson, much like he had a week earlier when United had beaten Barcelona 2-1 in a pre-season friendly.
David de Gea struggles to impose himself. Unfortunately, United’s new Spaniard keeper didn’t enjoy the sort of competitive debut his teammates such as Young or Phil Jones did, as he made two made avoidable errors towards the end of the first half. Firstly, for Joleon Lescott’s goal, he positioned himself poorly for a free kick and was made to pay as the defender easily nodded in. Then, minutes later, he was slow and sluggish as he failed to save an Edin Dzeko strike. He did try to atone for these mistakes in the second half when he pulled off a few decent saves, but his performance will still be under scrutiny. It’s important that he is given time, though.
United operate as a team. The reason why City struggled to assert themselves was because they focused too much on individuality and certainly did not pass the ball as well as United, who had a large share of possession even when they were behind. The equaliser epitomised just how good United are as a collective – showing great understanding together. It is also worth noting that when the final whistle was blown, United’s eleven players on the pitch had an average of 23. At one point, their oldest player was Ashley Young, quite amusingly – at the tender age of 26.
The Report Card. Yep, it’s back. United players are graded as if they’re back at school; David De Gea F – Chris Smalling B, Rio Ferdinand C, Nemanja Vidic C, Patrice Evra C – Nani A, Michael Carrick C, Anderson C, Ashley Young A – Wayne Rooney B, Danny Welbeck C – Subs: Phil Jones C, Jonny Evans C, Rafael C, Tom Cleverley B, Dimitar Berbatov (too cool for school)