On to Singapore. With opening day just over three weeks away, Manchester United continue their preseason preparations on Saturday against Inter Milan. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s match.
(1) The Reds wrapped up the Australian leg of Tour 2019 with an impressive 4-0 win over Leeds. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side looked especially dangerous on the counter, carving through tired defenders with ease. Marcus Rashford scored on one break and Daniel James hit the post on another. Like the Perth Glory match, Solskjaer switched his entire eleven at halftime — a luxury that Leeds, with only five subs on the bench, could not afford. United ran the Whites ragged in the second half, adding goals from Phil Jones and Anthony Martial.
(2) No one should make too much out of preseason performances, but first-half goals from Rashford and Mason Greenwood bode particularly well. Greenwood, in particular, needed a boost of confidence in front of goal. Between the season finale against Cardiff City and last week’s Perth match, he had squandered a lot of really good scoring chances. It’s no reason to worry — Greenwood is just 17, after all — but it must come as a huge relief to finally get on the scoresheet. Hopefully, that tap-in opens the floodgates.
(3) Paul Pogba hasn’t always endeared himself to Manchester United supporters — especially with his recent comments in Japan — but he deserves credit for setting aside all of the (self-inflicted) uncertainty and playing well in Australia. His weighted pass out wide to Aaron Wan-Bissaka set everything in motion for United’s first goal on Wednesday and he delivered several other highlight-worthy moments, too. Whether Pogba ultimately stays or goes, it’s hugely encouraging that he’s not letting all of the outside noise affect his performances. Long may that continue.
(4) Three more Reds are set to link up with Ole’s full squad in Singapore. Fred, Matteo Darmian, and Dean Henderson — all excused for the first ten days of tour — will arrive ahead of the weekend match with Inter. Only Fred has a realistic path into the first team, with Darmian hopefully getting his preferred move back to Italy and Henderson heading back out on loan. Fred’s first season in Manchester didn’t pan out well at all, so there’s a lot of work ahead for the 26-year-old Brazilian to justify his transfer price and turn his United career around.
(5) Everything points to David De Gea signing a new bumper contract upon the squad’s return home. The Pogba and Romelu Lukaku situations remain unresolved, but this is one huge item checked off United’s summer to-do list. DDG committed several uncharacteristic errors down the stretch last season, though United’s sieve-like defense did almost nothing to protect him. The backline should be much improved with Wan-Bissaka spidering on the right — not to mention the possible addition of Harry Maguire — so 2019/20 should be better on that front. De Gea might make his preseason debut on Saturday after battling a fever all week.
(6) The Inter Milan match also marks the start of the International Champions Cup. The Reds will play three matches in the competition over the next few weeks and, since the ICC needs to crown a winner from the twelve participants, there are no draws. If level at the full-time whistle, the match goes straight to penalties. Winners in the spot kick shootout get two points, while the losers settle for a single point. United won this competition back in 2014.
(7) Inter Milan find themselves in a similar position as Manchester United: the long, hard road of rebuilding a European giant. They’ve never been quite the same since winning the Treble in 2010, but finally look to be back on track after appointing Antonio Conte as manager. Despite a disappointing season overall, the Nerazzurri qualified for the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Empoli on the final day of the Serie A season.
(8) In a surprise twist, Conte named Radja Nainggolan to Inter’s tour squad. That seemed unlikely earlier this summer when the new boss banished Nainggolan from training, but The Ninja battled back and now has a chance to regain his spot in the team. When he joined from Roma last summer, supporters hailed the move as a major coup, but it hasn’t quite worked out.
(9) Unlike Nainggolan, time is up for Mauro Icardi. A turbulent 2018/19 saw the prolific striker stripped of the captaincy and embroiled in a bitter dispute with the club over his delayed return from an injury. A cascade of boos chased Icardi off the San Siro pitch after missing a penalty in the Empoli finale. Conte, looking to stamp his authority on his new team, has kept him at arm’s length from the start.
(10) The Icardi melodrama leads right back to Manchester United, where Romelu Lukaku stands as Conte’s preferred target. And, despite some disappointment over the Belgian’s performances last season, it’s not hard to see why. Lukaku scored 42 goals for the Reds in two injury-shortened seasons, overcoming a questionable first touch to put away a lot of goals. Inter reportedly tabled a laughable bid (two-year loan with obligation to buy) that United rightly rejected out of hand. They’ll need to do much better to pry Lukaku out of Manchester.
(11) Still, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Lukaku hasn’t played yet in preseason. Whether truly carrying a knock or just held out as a transfer precaution, Big Rom will need some playing time sooner or later. “It’s not ideal when you miss a training session and he was missing towards the end of yesterday’s session,” Solskjaer said on Wednesday. “He missed the game again and it’s two chances to play 45 minutes at this stage of the preseason. It’s important for everyone to get fit and hopefully he’ll be available soon.”