Manchester United closed out their pre-season with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria in Dublin. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata scored once in each half, either side of a bit-too-easily-conceded Dennis Praet strike. There were no new injuries to report, Nemanja Matić made his debut, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata both played the second half after suffering minor knocks recently, and the team looked comfortable playing two different systems. All in all, a good day at the office.
Matić is the business
Despite spending his pre-season so far training on his own, United’s new midfielder didn’t at all look like a man lacking match fitness. He settled in perfectly at the base of midfield, patrolling the area in front of the backline with composure and authority. Half a game in pre-season is not nearly enough on which to judge the merits of a signing, but Matić is already showing why Mourinho was so keen to add him to the team.
Matić may prove to be a slightly immobile, limited midfielder whose best days are behind him. But his performance against Sampdoria was a reminder of just who United think they signed: a player who was generally regarded as the most dominant midfielder in the league two years ago, and who has the ability and the experience to slot right into a team that is still lacking in seasoned pros.
5-3-2 is a real option
For the second time this pre-season, the team started out lined up in a 5-3-2 formation, before changing to the default 4-3-3 in the second half. Mourinho has confirmed that he plans to play four at the back more often than not this season, but this is the most comfortable United has looked in the alternative formation, other than last season’s win against Chelsea. The presence of Matić allowed Paul Pogba extra license to get forward, and the inclusion of a more technical presence in Andreas Pereira for the third midfield spot (as opposed to the harrying of Ander Herrera) was notable as well.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan revels in the more central role, and both Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian were able to bomb forward with regularity. Both wing-backs were involved in the counter-attack that created the opening goal, with Darmian providing the assist. When fit (and assuming he sorts himself out), Luke Shaw would be a more natural fit in the left wing-back role, as would - if he signs - Ivan Perišić. As the team gets more comfortable in the system, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it deployed more often next season.
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