History suggests that there is often nothing concrete that can be drawn from pre-season. Whilst players’ efforts cannot often be questioned in these games, it is never quite possible to re-create the competition and hence pressure that comes when the season proper gets under-way. As such, it is very easy to get carried away by a flawless pre-season in much the same way unnecessary alarms can be raised because of a couple of bad results.
It is therefore a thankless task trying to draw lessons and conclusions from the five games in two and half weeks Manchester United have just completed in the United States. However, what we’re certain of is that bar the pair of new signings, United have essentially been as they were last season in terms of the human resource. Consequently, it can safely be stated that one of the aspects to look out for on tour was the improvement in United with the addition of one of the premier league’s lead hit-men last season as well as an ‘Iceman’ of a defender.
In the end, it feels like many of the lessons and conclusions are philosophical and nothing quite tangible. For starters, Jose Mourinho has tirelessly praised the team spirit within a camp of just over two-dozen players. Indeed, the manager made it known to his pair of new signings that they were fortunate to be joining a ‘special group’. Without appearing to read so much into this state of thing, it should be remembered that this is one of the cardinal targets of pre-season. For a manager who heavily relies on the ‘trust’ he develops with individual players, it bodes well for him if he feels that he has seen something positive in that respect.
Jose Mourinho has also trumped (forgive the pun) up the facilities United have been afforded to prepare over in Los Angeles at the University of California. Indeed, it was always going to be easy to better the farcical circumstances of last season’s Asia tour that saw bad weather force the club to call off a fixture against Manchester City in Beijing. Again, this has a touch of a philosophical positive whose importance ahead of the 2017/18 campaign can only be evaluated in due course. For now, if the manager is happy with the preparations, then so should the fans.
Bar the minor injuries sustained by Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, United have managed to stay injury free while on tour. The manager will also count that in the positive column considering that the first big fixture of the season is only a little over a week away.
Philosophy aside, the question remains as to how much have United improved from what we saw last season. Well, having lost Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a long-term injury, it is fair to say United have, at least to an extent, addressed that particular deficiency with the addition of Romelu Lukaku. That is only a logical conclusion because we cannot know for certain until the real action resumes. He has, at least, looked the part while on tour, if only because he affords the club a presence up top.
Of the pair of new additions, it is the Swede, Victor Lindelof who has attracted more groans on social media from key board pundits. It has certainly not been a disaster tour for him by any stretch but two errors is all it takes these days to get the online commentary to kick into full gear. Eric Bailly’s suspension for the Super Cup and indeed the first pair of matches in the Champions League group stage means that the manager has been intent on getting the Swede to form a partnership with Chris Smalling or Phil Jones. Resultantly, United cannot claim to have come away from the tour with a certain central defensive partnership. It could remain hit and miss for a while too considering the club do not have Marcos Rojo available at least until December.
A somewhat similar problem prevails in the left back position. The certainty that Valencia provides at right back is non-existent at the other end. Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind are in some sort of rotation for the position depending on the opposition and or who is fit and available. All three have various strengths and weaknesses that at times makes you wish we could mould one player from the lot. The suggestion is that this particular problem is not going to be fixed by the current transfer window, meaning that something’s got to have to click from among the available three players to afford United more certainty on the left side of the defence.
On a more positive note, United can take pride in the Academy products that have done themselves proud while on tour. Adreas Perrerira in particular has looked the part in midfield at a time when it is make or break for him at the club. Demi Mitchell, Axel Tuanzebe, Tim Fosu-Mensah and McTominay have done enough in this writer’s opinion to be in an around the first team again with perhaps more of a chance to continue to improve in the Cup competitions.
The positives notwithstanding, United are not yet at the level that will allow us to keep our finger nails next season. It’s a good thing then that the manager is aware of this. In deducing the games against Real Madrid and Barcelona, the manager made the observation that the Spanish sides have player personnel that cannot be matched by anybody else. Whilst a tactical game plan can reduce the quality gap between two teams in a game of football, it still helps to have majority of the best players in the world in your team.
Luckily, for the manager, United’s mission next term is not to conquer Europe. The manager however feels that his team is now better equipped to battle for domestic supremacy. It’s a hope carried by many fans ahead of a season in which United will be expected to launch a serious bid to reclaim their trophy.