Manchester United cruised to a second straight victory on their pre-season tour of Australia, beating Leeds United 4-0 in Perth. United scored a pair of goals in either half, with Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Phil Jones, and Anthony Martial all getting on the scoresheet. Here are some takeaways from the match.
Rashford scores again
Marcus Rashford scored for the second match running, and while it is always folly to read too much into pre-season results, the young striker looks confident in front of goal. His finish for United’s second was just the sort of goal fans want to see him score more often. Rather than relying on his just his speed, Rashford used a clever feint to beat two defenders before opening his body up to finish across the ‘keeper and into the far corner.
If Rashford is to become a 20 goal per season player — which he will be need to be if he means to lead the line for United — then he has to become more clinical in front of goal. An A-League team and a weakened Championship side may be cannon fodder, but the signs are encouraging.
Pace, pace, pace
Solskjaer has hardly had a press conference or interview where he hasn’t mentioned the word “pace,” and the early signs in his first pre-season are that it will be a hallmark of his team. Mason Greenwood and Daniel James look set to feature regularly this season, joining Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial up front. Just as importantly, Aaron Wan-Bissaka will provide speed on the overlap, adding to the young and vigorous fullback options of Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot.
The opening goal in particular demonstrated the value of injecting speed into the team. Paul Pogba’s clever through ball was perfectly timed for Wan-Bissaka to make full use of his pace to get on the end of it before crossing to the onrushing Greenwood. If Pogba and United’s other midfielders can continue to use their speed of thought to maximize the speed of foot of the players around them, United could be very fun to watch this season.
An attacking formation
In the two pre-season matches so far, Solskjaer has opted for what looks like a 4-2-3-1 formation. In each of the 4 halves (with 11 changes coming in at half time of both games), the manager has deployed only one holding midfielder. The other “midfield spot” has been given over to a deep-lying attacker. In today’s match, Juan Mata and Angel Gomes played the no. 10 role in either half. Having more attackers on the pitch does not necessarily equate to playing more attacking football, but it is another sign that Solskjaer means to play on the front foot by default.
The kids are ready
Greenwood is seriously good. Anyone who has watched him at academy and reserve level can tell you this, but he now looks ready to challenge for a first team place. He may not get many games ahead of Rashford and Martial as a lead striker, but he offers more on the right of the attack than any of the other current options (more on that below). Tahith Chong had a very good second half, and while he may benefit more from a loan this season, he’s certainly impressed more so far in Australia than the likes of Mata and Jesse Lingard.
Angel Gomes was one of the bright sparks of the second half, and is another player who has shown up his senior competitors a bit. Small as he is, he regularly plays in midfield for the reserves (as opposed to the appearances he’s made for the senior team on the wings), and provides great technical ability in a central attacking midfield role. It was his clever link up with Chong that eventually lead to the penalty which Martial converted.
Holes in the squad remain
Even in a friendly against second tier opposition, Marcos Rojo managed to look out of place. The Argentinian defender is not an acceptable left-back (or center back, for that matter). Luke Shaw picking up a slight injury in the last match was a reminder of his chequered fitness history, and United do not have an obvious back up. Ashley Young’s decline shows no sign of reversing, and Dalot is obviously more comfortable on the opposite flank.
In attack, right wing continues to be a problem area. Greenwood has looked like the best option so far, but a teenager playing out of position is hardly a serious solution. James is still very raw, and also more suited to playing on the left. For all the focus on center back and center midfield, another attacker may be needed just as much.