Two of the biggest and most popular football clubs in the world—Real Madrid and Manchester United—engaged in a friendly bout in the States as a dress rehearsal for the European Super Cup encounter which is scheduled to take place in two weeks’ time.
The game ended 1-1 and the Reds somehow stumbled onto a win—through a frankly comical penalty shootout, where seven out of ten attempts in total failed to hit the back of the net.
As Jose Mourinho mentioned a fair few times before pre-season fixtures began, these games are nothing but ‘glorified training sessions’, much to the dismay of the fans, who had to part with as much as $60 to park their cars on a sweltering hot day in Santa Clara.
But for them, it did shed light on a few things about where Manchester United stand in their preparations for the new season and whether they could compete on all five fronts without signing another player in this transfer window. Here are a few things to spin your head around:
1. Mourinho is satisfied with the pre-season so far
Exactly a year ago, Jose Mourinho looked visibly angry with the arrangements in China, as he sat his press-conference, bemoaning the facilities, weather, and the prospect of a ‘double friendly’ against Manchester City which never actually materialized. After all, the schedule was signed off long before he took the office and he could not wait to board the long flight back to Carrington, to resume training with home comforts.
Fast forward to July 2017, the Portuguese is having it his way—the Red Devils have, so far, enjoyed a productive time in the United States playing against the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid with Barcelona next in the pipeline, in a tour that also includes a European leg, just the way he preferred—less travel, enjoyable weather, and more recovery time between games.
So, Mourinho is in a good mood—and that is already an improvement on last season.
2. Fresh injuries to Mata and Herrera
The transfer situation at United is still very much open-ended, to say the least. With only two weeks remaining until the Reds take on Real Madrid in Macedonia, United have signed just two players when the Portuguese has very clearly stated that he needed up to four players this summer to bolster his squad—with a ‘list’ containing the options for different positions handed over to Ed Woodward as early as April.
So far, Woodward has been able to deliver a forward in Romelu Lukaku as replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the long pursuit to bring in Antoine Griezmann was brought to a screeching halt, and a center-half in Victor Lindelöf after flirting with the idea of signing the Swede since January.
With Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, and Ashley Young out for a considerable period of time and fresh injuries to midfielders Herrera and Mata in pre-season—of which the severity and extent are still unclear—it would leave the Portuguese with a relatively thin squad once again, with an objective to win as many competitions as he can. Unless, of course, United make a few more moves before the window shuts.
3. With great responsibility comes great consistency
The biggest talking point in a damp squib of a match was most certainly the one gif-worthy moment provided by Anthony Martial and his slaloming run past three white shirts to create the opening goal just before the end of the first half.
Martial has been in and out of the side under Jose Mourinho, which has led to several rumours linking him away from the club on a loan—with Inter Milan even reportedly including him in a deal that would see Perisic go the other way. But the Frenchman has repeatedly quashed them, often through his own social media account.
Mourinho addressed the status quo with respect to Martial in the post-match press conference stating that he needed to be more ‘consistent’ with his output and the talent was never in doubt. Crunching some numbers (from WhoScored.com) though, it is evident that Martial’s output has been in line with several others in his position—across the front three/four.
The 21-year old has contributed to 10 goals in 18 starts (1558 minutes in total) in the Premier League with at least a goal in every competition he played in for United last season, which is every single one of them. Out of the 25 appearances that he has made in the league, Martial completed the full 90 minutes on just seven occasions.
That is hardly adequate for a young player who has the tendency to grow into matches—often tearing tired defences apart in the second half of games. In fact 3 of the 4 goals he scored in the league in 2016/17 have come in second halves—and in 3 of the 4 games he managed to score, he was a part of the starting line-up.
To put this in a nutshell, Martial is not an impact substitute. He needs to start more games and handed greater responsibilities and the trend suggests that he will deliver.
With great responsibility, in this case, will come great consistency.