On a rain-drenched evening in Miami, Florida, Manchester United concluded their pre-season tour of the USA with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the final of the International Champions Cup. While the silverware itself may not live long in the memory, and while pre-season is always about conditioning first, practice second, and results third, a win's a win. And a win over Liverpool's a win over Liverpool.
Despite the eventual scoreline, United were arguably second-best for the first 45 minutes. Liverpool opened the scoring in the 14th minute, when the tight knot of muscle that passes for Phil Jones' brain decided it would be a good idea to jump into a tackle on the right hand side of the box. Over went Raheem Sterling, out went the referee's arm, and in went the penalty. Jones was convinced he'd feathered the ball first, but that wouldn't make it any less stupid a tackle.
Defensive jitters were the theme of United's first half, and the back three — particularly Jones and Jonny Evans — looked tired in both body and mind. Liverpool could have had another penalty following a challenge by Ander Herrera, though the referee took a dim view of Sterling's soft tumble, and United kept the deficit to one thank to a number of last ditch interceptions and tackles and a confident showing from David de Gea.
In attack, the only real clear chance fell to Javier Hernandez in the fifth minute. Ashley Young, released down the left by a fine pass from Darren Fletcher, cut back onto his right foot and clipped a cross to the back of the six yard box. Hernandez, stretching at the far post, was unable to make clean contact, and Mamadou Sakho was able to take the rebound from Juan Mata's toes. After that, it was crosses that found defensive foreheads or long shots into defensive blocks; only Young, continuing his unlikely reinvention as a wingback, was able to cause the Liverpool back line any discomfort.
The second half started in a similar vein, with United sloppy on the ball and Liverpool, particularly Sterling, buzzing around dangerously. Then two goals in two minutes completely flipped the game on its head. First Javier Hernandez curled a gorgeous ball to Wayne Rooney beyond the far post; the striker kept his cool and placed a cute left foot volley back across Mignolet for the equaliser. Then, moments later, a slick passing combination ended when Juan Mata, in space on the edge of the Liverpool box, saw his shot deflected past the stranded keeper. Suddenly, United were in charge.
The lead was nearly extended in gloriously farcical circumstances just after the hour, when Young's overhit cross bounced back onto the pitch from the goal stanchion and Rooney tapped the ball into an empty net. Though the ball had clearly gone out of play — to the point that Mignolet was leaning against one of the posts, filing his nails — the goal was given, much to Rooney's visible amusement, before some fun-hating busybody of a linesman noticed the replay on the big-screen.
Then the substitutions started to flow, and the game petered out the way all friendlies do. Hernandez will have been pleased with his overall contribution — though he missed his best chance, he set up the first goal and looked much livelier than he did last season. Mata, De Gea, Young and Herrera also looked good — United's latest Spaniard is going to get a lot of very satisfying yellow cards this season — and Rooney, bless him, appears to have decided that he gives a toss again. The defence was a shambles, but then we knew that anyway, and so did Louis van Gaal.
Lingard added an excellent third in the 87th minute, taking control of a cross on the edge of the box, setting the ball for himself, then guiding a clipped shot just inside the post. And then there was a trophy. Hooray for trophies. Hooray for pre-season.
Manchester United: De Gea; Evans (Blackett '45), Smalling, Jones; Valencia (Shaw 8'), Herrera (Lingard 77'), Fletcher (Cleverley 45'), Young; Mata (Kagawa 69'); Rooney, Hernandez (Nani 69')
Goals: Rooney 55', Mata 57', Lingard 87'
Liverpool: Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho (Toure 74'), Kelly; Gerrard (Lucas 63'), Allen (Can 63'), Henderson, Coutinho; Lambert (Ibe 63'), Sterling
Goals: Gerrard 14' (pen)