Manchester United continued their winning ways in a 2-1 win over Tottenham today. As the tour starts drawing to a close, they look confident and poised in their new attacking system.
Here are the biggest takeaways from today’s game.
Martial and Rashford could be competing for the same position yet again
Anthony Martial was one of the stars of the first half, linking up really well with the creators in midfield and on the wing, as well as scoring the only goal of the half from a difficult angle. He hit the post early in the game and never looked back, contributing a sizeable chunk of United’s 7 shots. He was replaced by Marcus Rashford for the second half, the two being the regulars at no. 9 this preseason.
In the 2017/18 campaign one of the main debates seemed to be whether Martial or Rashford should be the starting left winger. For awhile it worked out perfectly starting one to wear out the opposing left back and then bring on the other to finish them off. However, the inconsistency, arrival of Alexis Sanchez, and Mourinho’s unwillingness to play them elsewhere led to the failure of that experiment. Solskjaer found a somewhat successful formula starting Rashford at centre forward and Martial on the left in his caretaker tenure last season, but the attack went stale near the end of the run.
This preseason has been used well by Solskjaer as he looks to implement his own style, which appears to include a 4-2-3-1 formation with either Martial or Rashford up top. They’ve both impressed at that position, and have scored a couple goals each. Against Inter Rashford did play on the left for 45 with Martial up top, but it’s fair to say that they’ve each looked more comfortable at striker so far. It is a luxury to have to quality young attackers who can play on the wing or through the middle in the forward line, but which combination will Solskjaer use? Whoever doesn’t end up at no. 9 would likely start on the left, but it could raise the question of whether that position is really getting the most out of that player.
United’s high press works against quality opposition
Solskjaer’s tactical adjustments this preseason have made United a much more watchable team, and a big part of that is their ability to win the ball back and drive forward quickly. Naturally it worked well against Perth Glory and Leeds United, two sides that United should beat handily, but Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspurs are no easy task. They’ve both qualified again for the Champions League, and Tottenham even made it all the way to the final last season.
Both Inter and Tottenham have played a mix of first team and reserve players, as is the preseason way, but have most of their started playing with no major exclusions for rest after international tournaments. United handled business very well in the first half with Pogba and McTominay in holding positions. Spurs were more dangerous in the second half with the attacking trio of Son Heung Min, Erik Lamela, and Lucas Moura, and nicked an equalizer off of a deflected Moura shot. Still, United gathered themselves and were able to press again to close out strong and grab a winner through Angel Gomes, who was a strong force behind the renewed energy in the side.
Solskjaer wants to attack, and with a full preseason to implement his style, against some strong opponents too, this squad should be more prepared to maintain said style longer than they did after switching managers mid season.
Pereira, McTominay, and Fred seem ready for regular first team football
United’s midfield is lacking in depth after the departure of Ander Herrera, and Nemanja Matic clear aging has made him a less reliable option (to put it kindly). The transfer window is still and option, but Solskjaer will regardless need the rest of the squad to step up when called upon. Andreas Pereira, Scott McTominay, and Fred were on the fringes of the first team for much of last season, and it was evident why when Jose Mourinho did use them. Though McTominay improved under Solskjaer, Pereira and Fred still struggled to reach and maintain any sort of form. However, so far on this preseason tour the three have taken advantage of their chances.
Pereira, who set up Martial’s goal in the first half, was an active contributor in possession at the top of a triangle midfield, with Pogba and McTominay behind him. He’s running out of chances at United, and some (this writer included) had written him off after last season. McTominay and Pogba were a very effective screen behind the Brazilian creator, and the Scotsman could very well be the opening day starter at that position.
Fred was one of the rotational substitutes in the second half, coming on for Pogba. He struggled initially as the United midfield attempted to establish chemistry and possession in response to a resurgent Spurs, but they eventually settled and allowed the attackers to find a groove. Fred’s quickness and passing are noticeable qualities, but he’s shown promise as a defensive midfielder with vision for cutting passing lanes. £50m is still a hefty fee for someone that hasn’t made much of an impact yet, but it’s clear that Fred is more comfortable in this side than he was at the beginning of last season.
This trio of fringe players will be needed if United are to stabilize and recover after last season’s catastrophic campaign. They may not be finished projects, but they’re miles ahead of where they were a year ago. Expect Solskjaer to place more confidence in their abilities this season, and possibly even work 1 of them into the regular starting 11 if transfer business remains stagnant.
Please buy defenders
We’ve been down this road already, so lets keep it short.
Bailly and Jones are hurt, now and seemingly all the time. We’ve seen what Rojo and Smalling can do. Tuanzebe is promising, but young and unproven in the Premier League.
Lindelöf needs help. If Shaw gets hurt again, Young won’t be good enough.
Buy defenders, Ed. We’re begging you.
Sincerely, everyone in Red.