Manchester United rattle Real Madrid to reach final
Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United revolution is showing no signs of slowing, with the Red Devils 6/5 to defeat Liverpool and win the International Champions Cup.
Whilst it may only be a pre-season trophy up for grabs, Van Gaal illustrated just how seriously he is taking the competition, as United sailed past Real Madrid 3-1 to secure their final spot.
Champions League holders Real may not have had superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, or newest Galactico James Rodriguez in the starting XI, but they could still boast an exciting attacking side containing Gareth Bale, Isco and Luka Modric.
United, meanwhile, were still missing the injured Rafael and Michael Carrick, with Robin van Persie and Adnan Januzaj also rested after their World Cup exploits.
It was, however, Red Devils outcasts Javier Hernandez and Ashley Young who stole the show, giving fans hope that the misfit duo may yet turn the tables, and impress enough to earn another chance at Old Trafford this term.
Continuing with Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation, United looked sharp, confident and compact, having seemingly taken to the Dutchman’s system like ducks to water.The coach himself noted the impact of his tactics after the game, stating: “It’s amazing we had one chance against us in the first half, and two in the second.”
Stand-in wing back Young performed impressively again from the left, surprising doubters by bagging a brace.
His first goal, in the 21st minute, was a sublime team effort, which culminated in an exciting series of one-touch exchanges between Darren Fletcher, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, before Young finished smartly.
The much-maligned wideman added his second in the closing stages of the first half, with stadium announcers giving credit to Rooney, who was actually unable to connect with Young’s curling cross.
Poacher Hernandez also showed he still has it, after Shinji Kagawa, who has also been linked with an Old Trafford exit, showed his quality with a delicious pinpoint cross. As ever, Hernandez was there to gobble up the chance and head home.
With Van Gaal claiming compatriot Van Persie will be not be starting the season until he is fully fit, and Welbeck now a potential injury concern, this could be the Mexican striker’s chance to stake a claim for a starting spot.
In the second half, after Jonny Evans’ departure, Phil Jones, still just 22 years of age, became the senior defender in a back three that also contained youngsters Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett.
Van Gaal still seems to be aware of the need for another experienced option in his backline, though. Commenting after the game: “They [Blackett and Keane] can do the job but they cannot do the job for a lot of matches. They can do it for one match and maybe when you give them more the experience will increase.”
Jones took to his role as mentor well, and put in an excellent shift, as United were rarely troubled at the back. Former Blackpool loanee Blackett looked particularly cool and composed in possession again, increasing speculation he may be kept in the senior squad to provide cover as a genuine left footed central defender and full back.
Young Keane did struggle at times against Bale’s raw pace, though, eventually dragging the rapid Welshman down and conceding a penalty, which the former Spurs star dispatched with ease. However, despite clawing one back, even a cameo from Ronaldo was not enough to rescue a result for the Spanish capital club.
Darren Fletcher also contributed another dominating display in midfield and, along with Kagawa, Young and Hernandez, highlighted the effect of Van Gaal’s methods on players previously believed to be below standard.
Academy star Jesse Lingard also turned in a promising performance when replacing Antonia Valencia as right wing back. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder thrived under the responsibility, and looked to be quite the creative outlet, in what was an unfamiliar role.
United will now clash with Liverpool, who are available at 9/4 to win, in the final. It will no doubt be a stern test for the Red Devils and their new formation, against an opposition who will be determined to take bragging rights back to Anfield.
New boss Van Gaal was still quick to temper expectations, though, playing down the significance of the grudge match: “It’s preparation time. So, also for the opponents its preparation. It doesn’t say anything but it is better to win than lose.”
It will be the Dutch coach’s first experiment against Premier League opposition with United, and the pace of Liverpool on the flanks will surely be a challenge to those deployed in the wing back roles. However, if United can create more chances, like the beautiful opening team goal against Real, fans can have every reason to be confident.