Manchester United ended their tour of the United States by suffering their first pre-season loss of the summer, with Barcelona emerging as 1-0 winners. Neymar’s first half strike, following some rare carelessness by Antonio Valencia in the penalty box, was the only goal of the game. Barcelona, despite being further behind in match fitness, often looked the sharper team. United threatened on occasion, but it was a generally underwhelming display. The most encouraging outcomes were that a few more players were able to get a full 90 minutes under their belts, and a thankful lack of new significant injuries. Here are some observations.
Marcus Rashford looks ready to make The Leap
There is a long list of reasons to not get carried away by Marcus Rashford’s form so far this summer. It’ still early days, and it’s only preseason, and it will only be Rashford’s second full season a senior player. But all that said, Rashford is precisely the kind of player over whom we’re supposed to get carried away. He’s young and exciting and home-grown and seriously good.
It’s been widely noted - including by the manager - how much stronger he looks. The gain in muscle is comparable to the summer of 2006 when Ronaldo hit the weight room and started on a tear of form that has, remarkably, never slowed down since. He also looks more assured, no doubt boosted by the strong support he enjoys from José Mourinho. Romelu Lukaku’s arrival means that Rashford will not be primarily leading the line next season, but he’s already looking too good to be merely shunted out wide or left on the bench. If his progression takes him to the next level as a player this coming season, he will be too good not to accommodate in the first XI every week.
Needed: A Holding Midfielder
With Ander Herrera carrying a minor knock, Michael Carrick partnered Paul Pogba in midfield in the first half, with Marouane Fellaini coming on for the second. Neither man impressed much. Fellaini has looked more confident under Mourinho, performing his duties with enthusiasm and (for the most part) discipline. The only problem is that - bless his heart - he is still not very good at football. Carrick’s legs have been gone for ages, so neither is an acceptable regular presence in midfield.
The lack of depth and balance in United’s midfield was only partially exposed last season thanks to very good fitness records on the part of Pogba and Herrera. But if the Reds are expecting to compete for the big prizes next season, a new midfielder is a must.
Central Defense is a worry
All the usual caveats apply, but it’s not looking convincing so far in United’s rearguard. The expected first choice partnership of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf is yet to start a game (or even play at all as a duo), which seems like a missed opportunity. The likely explanation would be Bailly’s suspension for the first competitive match of the season, but one would think that getting as many match minutes as possible for the team’s two 23 year-old first choice center backs would be a priority.
Lindelöf himself is yet to show that he is ready for the step up, so at time of writing United’s central defense looks very similar to last season: Eric Bailly plus whoever is the least calamitous at the time.