Well the long wait is at last over and on a bright summer’s day in Lancashire fans gathered to watch Jose Mourinho’s first game as manager of Manchester United.
It was our chance to witness a Mourinho team for the first time. The start of our bright new dawn. The squad that travelled to the DW Stadium was absent of the players that had taken part in the Euro’s and later stages of the Copa America Cup. This was a golden chance for the fringe players to send a message to the new manager that they were worth a chance on the upcoming tour of China. Likewise it was the chance for the new backroom staff to evaluate players up close in a semi competitive game.
As the starting line ups were revealed the travelling fans were encouraged by starts for new signings Bailly and Mkhitaryan, whilst the sight of Luke Shaw wearing a United shirt again after his 10 month absence due to his horrific leg break was as good as a new signing.
United started the match using Mourinho’s tried and tested 4-2-3-1 with Shaw and Timbo at fullbacks supporting a central defensive partnership of Blind and Bailly. The old head of Carrick partnered Herrera in central midfield with Depay on the left, Lingard on the right. Henrikh was given license to roam and create playing just behind United’s forgotten man James Wilson, and his dominant performance in the No.10 role will add extra pressure to both Mata and Rooney’s futures.
The early stages were tentative as is common in pre-season friendly’s and with Wigan offering very little attacking threat this game was always going to be about when the red tide would break any resistance put in front of them. The first 45 minutes saw only brief glimpses of real class with the majority of those touches coming mainly from our new signing from Dortmund.
My initial impressions of Henrikh Mkhitaryan are that he has great balance and vision; and at last we have someone who will run at players at speed whilst being able to control the ball. (Something badly missed for a number of seasons!)
Eric Bailly also impressed in his first outing in an United shirt bringing a calm calculated approach alongside Blind. Granted a pack of midgets would have posed more of a challenge than the Wigan forward line. Jose looked to his wingers Depay and Lingard to provide crosses into the middle for his lone striker James Wilson and would have been disappointed with their overall contribution with neither player able to get the better of their respective defenders.
Depay in particular again failed to impress and missed the best opportunity of a lack lustre first half when he failed to convert Mkhitaryan’s clever cross from only 6 yards out. The young Dutchman will surely have to do better to convince any United fan he is worthy of retaining the iconic No.7 shirt.
With an ineffective Depay and a lightweight Lingard struggling in front of them the chances for fullbacks Shaw and Timbo to get forward were limited as United struggled to carve open any real chances in front of goal. Wilson cut a forlorn figure up front and was forced to drop deep in search of the ball, it would have been nice to see Herrera impose himself more in midfield against lower quality footballers and push forward into the space opening up in front of him.
As half time approached you could sense the air of frustration growing among the loyal travelling fans. The fans to their credit never stopped singing and were boosted by only the blazing sun, Mkhitaryan’s performance and a piece of pure cheeky skill from Bailly. The new signing showing his composure when he calmly lifted the ball over an onrushing player before controlling it on his chest and then playing it forward (Yes forward! I had forgotten how it feels!).
Half time saw a raft of changes as Jose looked to give minutes to all available players in the squad. Depay and Lingard were replaced out wide by Januzaj on the left and Young on the right. Mata replaced Mkhitaryan as he looked to prove to his former boss that he is worthy of a place in next season’s squad. Will Keane was bought on as the focal point of the attack, giving us the added dimension of height. The young exciting Andres Pereira replaced Carrick in the centre and adapted instantly to a position that is unfamiliar to him. At the back Valencia was given a chance at right back replacing Timbo whilst a slightly overweight and off the pace looking Shaw was replaced by a white haired Phil Jones (I’m sure he was aiming for blonde but it looks more white than blonde!).
Within 2 minutes of the restart United went ahead when veteran Wigan keeper Jaaskerlainen’s clearance was blocked by an eager to impress Juan Mata, the Spaniard squaring the ball to an unmarked Will Keane for a simple tap in. It had begun, the first goal of Mourinho’s tenure sending the 7,000 United fans into raptures as cries of Mourinho’s Red Army rang out around the ground.
The Wigan defence was now on the back foot as United probed for a decisive second goal. It came predictably on the 58th minute after Ashley Young was cynically brought down on the edge of the Wigan area. Mata took a short free kick to Herrera whose shot was blocked and as the ball fell loose inside the penalty box Pereira was on hand to swivel and finish with a rocket of a right footed shot into the top corner. It was a stunning finish from the young academy graduate and will go some way to help him get over the disappointment of not being included in the Brazilian Team for the upcoming Olympics.
Everything was going to plan for Jose’s boys, Blind was impressive in a left back role, offering us better distribution options down the channels. Valencia again proved that he just doesn’t offer any solutions going forward or defending and will surely be out the Old Trafford door. Jones & Bailly will need to be tested by better opposition than Wigan before a verdict can be returned.
As the game moved into its last 25 minutes Januzaj and Young seemed unable or unwilling to punish a team already two down, their lack of quality coupled with the first half performances of Depay and Lingard surely throws up the question as to the need for additional strengthening on the wings. I would gladly swap any of them for a player of Mahrez or James Rodriguez type quality (Heck I would swap Adnan for anyone who could actually cross the ball!).
Blind and Herrera were replaced on 73 minutes, giving way to Varela and Tyler Blackett, whilst Joel Pereira replaced virtual spectator Sam Johnstone with 10 minutes left. We were also given a chance to see another youth graduate Axel Tuanzebe when he replaced the impressive Eric Bailly, the young English defender showing his potential with his excellent positional play and reading of the game. Mourinho stating after the game how he was impressed by his short cameo.
A third goal never came and as the final whistle blew the fans celebrated what turned out to be a simple win over lower league opposition. Mission accomplished.
What did we learn?
Now it’s true LVG won his first friendly 7-0 in a display of fast flowing attacking football but his mentality changed after the league defeat to Leicester. He opted to be more defensive from that point onwards and we all know the rest of the story. 18 months of tedium later and the bounce was back. Jose will not make the same mistakes.
The fans are buzzing again the club is alive again, it’s almost as if Mourinho’s confidence is seeping through to the fans. Throw in the fact that we have bought in the best players from the German and French leagues with a record breaking transfer on the horizon all looks sweet.
The squad flies out to the Far East for games against tougher opposition in Dortmund and our local rivals Man City, the squad will be reinforced with players like Rashford, Martial, Rooney and De Gea returning to strengthen the squad whilst Ibra and potential incoming signings wait in the wings.
The squad will need further trimming with players sure to be exiting down Sir Matt Busby Way and youth players sent out on loan to give them the valuable playing time needed to develop.
Players such as Rooney, Mata, Young and Fellini futures will be in doubt as Jose looks to mould a team capable of challenging on all fronts next season.
But one thing is sure the arrogance is back and together we are United.
By Red in Bed
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