Boring football set to continue, Rashford's new role and more Man United talking points

Matt Jones 6/08/2018
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Manchester United wrapped up their 2018 pre-season schedule in Germany as Jose Mourinho‘s men went down to a slender 1-0 defeat to Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

Despite the margin of victory there was little on the pitch for United fans to get excited about, with virtually nothing created by the Red Devils as Bayern exerted control on proceedings.

It’s been an uninspiring summer for United, both on and off the field, and fans will hardly be filled with positivity ahead of the new Premier League season which kicks off at Old Trafford with the visit of Leicester City next Friday.

Here are three talking points from the game.

 

Pedestrian football does little to offer hope

<> at Allianz Arena on August 5, 2018 in Munich, Germany.

It’s been a long and insufferable summer for Manchester United fans. Firstly there’s the inactivity in the transfer market, with Fred the sole acquisition of any note or excitement.

Then there is the football. Dull, lifeless and lacking in quality. United were thrashed 4-1 by rivals Liverpool Stateside while uninspiring draws were recorded against MLS minnows Club America and San Jose Earthquakes.

Their summer programme was bookended by this lifeless outing in Germany against Munich on Sunday night, during which they mustered just one shot in 90 minutes, and none on target.

Their two victories have come via a penalty shootout against AC Milan and a 2-1 victory over Spanish giants Real Madrid, who were playing their first game of pre-season and failed to emerge from second gear.

Of course, Mourinho can and rightly will point to the fact that his preparations have been hindered by the majority of pre-season being undertaken with the Portuguese shorn of at least half his squad.

Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard are yet to play a minute of United’s warm-up games as they recuperate from an exhausting summer at the World Cup.

Yet, as Bayern harried and pressed United’s defenders high up the pitch on their home field, United dawdled and showed little invention or even willingness to attack. Alexis Sanchez once again cut a frustrated and isolated figure up front.

There were encouraging outings for new man Fred who got more minutes under his belt having not played one for Brazil at the World Cup. Luke Shaw continued to show signs of progress and looks in decent shape ahead of next weekend’s Premier League opener against Leicester.

And while pre-season is a mere gauge of how the season might pan out, United have done little so far to dispel the fear that 2018/19 could produce more mediocrity.

 

Number 10 role for Rashford

Rashford Bayern

Marcus Rashford was often used as a stick to beat Mourinho with last season – but the familiar yet tired cries of “Jose ruins youth” were hallow to say the least.

The Wythenshawe wonderboy was as much a victim of his own continuing growth as he was any wide of the mark vindictiveness labelled at his manager for not playing him. Rashford actually had plenty of chances, he was just inconsistent.

He played 1,810 minutes in the Premier League, placing him 11th among team-mates. Yet he only scored seven goals, although his five assists was joint third behind Pogba (10) and Lukaku (seven).

Even the much maligned Anthony Martial found the net more times (nine) despite seeing 226 minutes fewer on the field.

The 20-year-old went significant periods without scoring – six weeks and nine games from late October to early December, and 10 games and more than two months between early March and mid-May.

Mourinho must shoulder some of the blame as Rashford was rarely played centrally and asked to contribute defensively out wide – something he does much more diligently than sulky Frenchman Martial.

But rather than critics claiming Mourinho is killing the club’s academy – he took seven youth team players on the US tour – they should concentrate on the fact Rashford is still very much learning his craft.

An indicator of his standing within the squad should be his new jersey number for 2018/19 and could provide an insight into a possible elevated role.

Hours before kick-off in Bavaria it was revealed that Rashford will wear the No10 shirt this season – donned most recently by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Teddy Sheringham and David Beckham.

Ultimately, you have to give both Mourinho and Rashford a break. He’s still just a kid and his time will come.

Why won’t Jose release the shackles?

Jose Bayern

Mourinho prides himself on his teams’ resilience and ability to keep shape, and that’s admirable. But while that may have been allowed and even championed at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, United are a club at which entertainment and enterprise is etched into their core.

It’s not as if this side are a supreme defensive unit. Their impressive and improved record under Mourinho is more down to his refusal to let the handbrake off rather than any impenetrable or fearsome wall they represent.

Only Eric Bailly could be considered an elite operator, and his inability to keep himself healthy – he unsurprisingly went off here with a knock – has stunted his progress since a 2016 arrival from Villarreal.

Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have their uses but have more critics than fans. Victor Lindelof had an indifferent debut season in 2017/18 and Marcos Rojo is unpredictable and rash at best. Meanwhile, their first choice full-backs are converted wingers.

So why the hesitance? United have built up a resplendent and respectable reputation on swashbuckling, gung-ho football over the last half a century and more.

Mourinho will have heard some dissenting voices in the stands last season. They will only grow if the stagnant football remains a feature this term.

Those voices would be virtually non-existent if he unlocked the shackles and let his flair players loose on opponents. If United lose games but go down fighting, it is eminently more acceptable than doing so while meekly surrendering and trying to appear solid.

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Stars, stripes and silverware - how Man United have done after previous US pre-season tours

Matt Jones 5/08/2018
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How are you feeling heading into the new season, Manchester United fans?

If you’re excited, you must either be putting a brave face on, a pathological liar, or just a diehard Jose Mourinho fan/apologist.

Between a horde of academy prospects stepping into the limelight in America this summer with a large contingent of United’s World Cup stars enjoying an extended break, and the lacklustre results against Club America, San Jose Earthquakes and Liverpool, optimism is not high going into 2018/19.

With the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford set to be eased back into the squad following their exertions in Russia, not to mention Nemanja Matic set to miss the big kick-off due to an injury picked up at the World Cup that required surgery, United already look like they’re going to be playing catch-up.

Oh, how can we forget a frustrating summer in which United have dawdled in the transfer market, with Brazilian midfielder Fred the sole acquisition of significance.

As rival clubs are kicking on – Liverpool and Arsenal have done good business while Chelsea also have a spring in their step – the Red Devils have done little, either on the field or off it, to instil confidence or enthusiasm in their fanbase.

Still it’s not all doom and gloom. OK, so the 4-1 thrashing to Liverpool was excruciating to watch. But pre-season isn’t the be all and end all. It’s a gauge rather than a guarantee of what’s to come.

With that said, we thought we’d take a look back at United’s previous visits to the US in the last 16 years.

The club has toured the States on numerous occasions since first going across the pond in the 1950s. However, there was a two-decade hiatus before United returned in 2003.

Here is how United have fared in their previous seven summer visits to the States since then and how they did in the ensuing campaigns.

04 08 Man United

2003/04

Pre-season results

Celtic (W 4-0), Club America (W 3-1), Juventus (W 4-1), Barcelona (W 3-1), Sporting CP (L 3-1), Stoke City (L 3-1)

Premier League 3rd

FA Cup Winners

League Cup Fourth round

Champions League Last 16

United secured a record 11th FA Cup with a 3-0 win over Millwall, but surrendered the Premier League title to unbeaten champions Arsenal.

Their Champions League dreams ended in the last 16, with their European exit coming at the hands of current manager Mourinho’s eventual champions Porto.

2004/05

Pre-season results

Cobh Ramblers (W 2-1), Bayern Munich (L on pens 4-2), Celtic (L 2-1), AC Milan (L on pens 9-8), PSV Eindhoven (W 1-0), Burnley (W 3-1)

Premier League 3rd

FA Cup Runners-up

League Cup Semi-finals

Champions League Last 16

United finished empty-handed in terms of silverware – only their fourth trophy-less season in the last 17. United’s last chance of success was blown by a Paul Scholes penalty miss against Arsenal in an FA Cup final shootout.

United gained some sense of revenge as they ended Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ record-breaking 49-game unbeaten league run, while newly signed striker Wayne Rooney, 19, was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

2010/11

Pre-season results

Celtic (W 3-1), Philadelphia Union (W 1-0), Kansas City Wizards (L 2-1), MLS All-Stars (W 5-2), Guadalajara (L 3-2), Airtricity League XI (W 7-1), Juventus (L 2-1)

Premier League Champions

FA Cup Semi-finals

League Cup Quarter-finals

Champions League Runners-up

On December 19, 2010, Sir Alex Ferguson became the longest-serving manager in United’s history, overtaking Sir Matt Busby’s record of 24 years, one month and 13 days in charge.

Exceptional form at Old Trafford was key to United’s title victory. A 1-1 draw away at Blackburn saw them break the English league record by winning their 19th top flight title, surpassing rivals Liverpool’s 18.

They lost the Champions League final, however, 3-1 to Barcelona.

 sir alex ferguson 1

2011/12

Pre-season results

New England Revolution (W 4-1), Seattle Sounders (W 7-0), Chicago Fire (W 3-1), MLS All-Stars (W 4-0), Barcelona (W 2-1), New York Cosmos (W 6-0), Irish League XI (W 4-1)

Premier League 2nd

FA Cup Fourth round

League Cup Quarter-finals

Champions League Group stage exit (Europa League last 16)

United failed to emerge from their Champions League group, meaning they dropped down into the Europa League for the first time since the 1995/96 season. They were dumped out by Athletic Bilbao in the last 16.

In January, Ryan Giggs broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s record for the most club starts (757).

A painful final day in the Premier League saw hope of a 20th title go up in smoke following Manchester City’s thrilling late 3-2 victory at the Etihad over QPR. It was the first time in 23 years that the champions and runners-up had finished level on points.

 

2014/15

Pre-season results

LA Galaxy (W 7-0), Roma (W 3-2), Inter Milan (W on pens 5-3), Real Madrid (W 3-1), Liverpool (W 3-1), Valencia (W 2-1)

Premier League 4th

FA Cup Fifth round

League Cup Second round

Champions League Did not qualify

This was the first season since 1989/90 that United did not compete in any European competition, following a dismal seventh-place finish in the forgetful David Moyes experiment the year after Sir Alex retired.

Louis van Gaal replaced the sacked Moyes and just about returned the club to Europe as they finished fourth in the league.

2015/16

Pre-season results

Club America (W 1-0), San Jose Earthquakes (W 3-1), Barcelona (W 3-1), Paris Saint-Germain (L 2-0)

Premier League 5th

FA Cup Winners

League Cup Last 16

Champions League Group stage exit (Europa League last 16)

United’s foray back into Europe didn’t go well as they failed to get beyond the Champions League group stages, while they lost to rivals Liverpool in the Europa League’s round of 16.

They failed to secure a top four Premier League finish but redemption was reached with a thrilling extra-time FA Cup final win over Crystal Palace – a stunning Jesse Lingard goal winning the cup, although Van Gaal was sacked hours later.

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2017/18

Pre-season results

LA Galaxy (W 5-2), Real Salt Lake (W 2-1), Manchester City (W 2-0), Real Madrid (D 1-1), Barcelona (L 1-0), Valerenga (W 3-0), Sampdoria (W 2-1)

Premier League 2nd

FA Cup Runners-up

League Cup Quarter-finals

Champions League Last 16

United achieved their highest points total and league placing since the retirement of Ferguson in 2013, finishing second. The club failed to secure silverware though, losing in the FA Cup final to Chelsea.

United suffered disappointing exits in both the League Cup and Champions League, while Mourinho was criticised for his negative playing style.

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Jose Mourinho and Ed Woodward must settle differences, says former Man United chief

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Jose Mourinho and Ed Woodward have been urged to put their heads together and bring the good times back to Manchester United, by the club’s former chief executive Peter Kenyon.

Kenyon was a key figure at United during the glory years of Sir Alex Ferguson and has watched from a distance as the Red Devils have struggled to land the Premier League title for the past five years.

Their hopes of ending that sequence this term have not been helped by a pre-season dominated by Mourinho’s gloomy demeanour and clear frustration over transfers, an issue which places his relationship with executive vice-chairman Woodward in the spotlight.

Peter Kenyon

Peter Kenyon

Kenyon acknowledges things have yet to click two years into the Portuguese’s reign but does believe it can happen.

“They have to work it out and they’ll find a way of working it out,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek.

“United is bigger than anybody, bigger than any individual and that’s always been the mantra.

“It will get worked out and I would hope Jose is part of that working it out because he is incredibly skilled and he’s demonstrated he can do things.

“He is more than capable, one of the best coaches in the world but have they got it right? No.

“I think the first people to recognise that will be the people at United.

“Jose has all the capabilities, he’s done it, but I don’t think he’s in a place where he feels good at the moment, or United feel good at the moment or the fans at the moment.”

Kenyon sees Manchester City‘s rise as particularly difficult for United to deal with but is sure his old side have everything they need to close the gap on last year’s runaway champions.

“They’ve got more competition than they’ve ever had before and it’s coming from the other side of the city,” he said.

“Having been born there and lived there, that’s pretty uncomfortable. They’re just going to have to dig in and sort it out.

“They have the resources, they’ve got a fantastic fan-base and one of the best coaches in the world. They’ve just to work out what it is and sort it.”

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