Not much should be made of pre-season games because they are simply that. Indeed, Louis van Gaal masterminded United’s best pre-season form in recent memory during his two year spell, only to have everything quickly unravel when the real business started in August.
Jose Mourinho has adjusted the Dutchman’s pre-season schedule by adding a couple of fixtures to the statutory three that United had hitherto planned to play. It allowed for an earlier start to the preparations, and on Saturday, United made the short trip in the NorthWest to the DW Stadium to take on newly promoted Championship side Wigan Athletic.
In what turned out to be an efficient run out, the manager used all 22 players in the squad available to him, notably affording Juan Mata and Daley Blind roles. The Dutchman could yet have impressed the manager with his versatility, slotting in at centre back and wide left respectively. In a squad of 24, you feel that it is important to have a player of his qualities. Whilst the manager stated in his first presser a preference for ‘specialist players’, every winning team needs a jack of all trades somewhere in there. If only to offset unprecedented long term injuries over the course of a season.
Juan Mata, bless his soul, will claim that he impressed with his display at Number 10, setting up Will Keane for the opener just after halftime, even though it was from a goalkeeping howler. The Spaniard’s future at the club will remain a developing story throughout the summer.
Of United’s new signings so far, a couple were on show on Saturday. Eric Bailly, who will head into the season as the premier league’s all time third most expensive defender, started nervously but grew into the game with a calmness and stature that began to explain his quick rise to the top. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was however the brighter new addition, adding a verve of penetration and creativity at the top that United have lacked for a while. The Armenian will certainly improve life on the Old Trafford terraces with is inventive play. Indeed, his finishing is much better than the chance he blazed over the bar. A touch of rustiness perhaps given that this was only game one of pre-season.
On the whole, it was evident that United’s style under the new management will be more exciting than the bile served up under the old regime. In truth, it was always going to be harder to make it worse than Louis van Gaal managed. There was less obsession with possession and a genuine desire to build as many attacks as possible.
Much sterner opposition in China awaits the Reds in the form of BVB Dortmund on Friday and Manchester City on the Monday. We’ll definitely learn more about the new regime after those games, not for the results but for the style and performance. Until then, it’s safe to suggest that Jose has finally got his era at Manchester United underway.