So that's United's jaunt around the USA done and dusted. Five games in all, comprising four wins in normal time and another on penalties, with sixteen goals scored and four conceded. Sort of. It's pre-season, after all, and so the actual results are subordinate to *deep breath* physical conditioning, tactical integration, sponsorial representation, brand expansion, duty-free shopping, getting some decent photos, playing a bit of golf, and getting one over Liverpool if at all possible. Oh, there's nice.
Still, in amongst all the huffing and puffing and weird, cheap-looking trophies, there were things that looked a certain way, a way that might in turn have implications for the season ahead. Possibly. Here, anyway, are some of those things, presented with the caveat that: nothing we've seen yet actually matters. As the Iron Tulip himself reminds us: "It is better to win in preparation time than to lose, but the most important game is against Swansea City."
Rooney looks sharp
Thanks to David Moyes, United are pretty much stuck with Wayne Rooney, so it's good to see that he at least seems to be taking things seriously again. When out of form or condition he's a headache-inducing annoyance, but when he's in both he at least compensates with plenty of goals and shouting. Thanks be to almighty Pazuzu, he's playing as a striker again, which should at least minimise those moments when a promising move clanks off his shin and into nothingness. Look, we're stuck with him. You may as well start making peace with this now. And he's not bad when he can be bothered.
Young looks useful
Hands up if you thought Ashley Young had the makings of a decent wingback? Put your hands down, you liars. You too, Mrs Young. But the departure of Patrice Evra and the ... let's say mild lack of conditioning of Luke Shaw gave one of United's most frustrating players a chance, and of all the impressive performers on the tour, his improvement has been the starkest.
He's not a defender by any means, but he's certainly looked an enthusiastic occupier of more-or-less the right space, which is what's most important for a wingback. Coming on the ball from slightly deeper should suit him as well: more time to get his crosses in, less time spent getting squared up by a defender, then rolling the ball gently inside to Michael Carrick. TBB wonders if his exclusion from the England squad — and even from the standby list — has brought one or two things into perspective.
Mata looks at home
When you buy a No. 10 and play him on the wing, he can't really play at his best. When you buy a No. 10 and play him behind two centre-forwards, he can. While Van Gaal's shift to three at the back was largely inspired by the need to get two forwards on the pitch, it's Mata that might benefit the most. A playmaker trusted and required to make the play. Sounds delightful.
Herrera looks lovely
Clean-cut, handsome, tidy in possession, neat with his passing ... and absolutely nailed on to pick up a number of crowd-pleasing, opposition-irritating bookings. He's a central midfielder. A proper, actual, classy one. He even shoots from distance occasionally. Though he's not going to instantly or single-handedly restore United's midfield to the dominant machine it once was, he does at least look as though he's ready to take on part of the job, and that's more than most of his midfield colleagues.
Three at the back looks on
What's going to be interesting is how often. Van Gaal's decision to stick with it all through the tour makes sense — few of these players have played the system before — but at the same time, he's made no pronouncements that this will be the defined way of playing. Indeed, he's stressed that the players already know how to play in a 4-3-3. The question is whether the wingbacks are going to be the default formation, only changing in case of injury, or whether United are going to adopt a true two-formation approach, switching between a back three and back four depending on the opposition, the circumstance, and the situation of the game.
Ultimately, Van Gaal's a pragmatist, and we saw during the World Cup that he was happy to abandon or tweak his plans when they weren't working. And United can probably rest assured that it will go better than the last time the club decided to abandon a back four, in 2009, when a defence of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Richie de Laet got rubbished 3-0 away at Fulham.
The squad looks even more like the squad we all thought it was before the tour
Which is to say, in desperate need of at least one more central midfielder and one, if not two, central defenders. But everybody knew that. The real positive is that no other obvious area of need has been exposed: while a quick, talented, and consistently dangerous wide player would be nice, for sentimental value if nothing else, United have found a way round that problem that doesn't consist of picking two from Nani, Young and Valencia and hoping they're having a good day.
Bonus seventh thing: wasn't that fun?
Yes. Yes it was.