Manchester United’s pre-season began in earnest with victory over Amazulu in Durban. In a game where the result was always meaningless, United handed debuts to nine players, eight of whom featured for the Reserves last season. Expectations of a disjointed game were put to rest from the start, as United dominated the play in the first half. Amazulu started the second half brightly, and went from strength to strength as United’s tiring players increasingly allowed the opposition more space and time on the ball.
Starting the game with three young debutants in the back four required Rio Ferdinand to regularly bark orders at the new recruits. Scott Wootton played well at centre-half, and grew in confidence as the match progressed. He is also comfortable bringing the ball out from the back, making a few accurate long passes. With Michael Carrick covering the right of midfield, backed by Frederic Veseli at right back, not much attacking headway from either team was made from that quarter. Veseli was replaced at the start of the second half by Marnick Vermijl. The left flank was defended by Robbie Brady, whose positional sense was often called to question. He started well, but was constantly drawn forward into the space that he usually occupies on the left wing. When he did stay back, he was too tight to Ferdinand, leaving space that wasn’t taken advantage of by the hesitant Amazulu players. He likely wished that Ashley Young was situated in front of him. Brady did improve that aspect as the game wore on, and took the corners well, but he was ready to be replaced on 58 minutes by Tyler Blackett, another debutant. Blackett’s early contribution was to concede a penalty, which was overturned by the offside flag. The young Mancunian played well going forward.
New boy Jesse Lingard played adventurously in a midfield three, although it could be argued that Dimitar Berbatov was actually an advanced midfielder. These two were our best performers on the night, and Anders Lindegaard also shone brightly on a fairly busy evening between the sticks. Jesse wanted the ball, and energetically made himself available for 70 minutes, until he was replaced by Davide Petrucci. Paul Scholes was disciplined in his approach to his central role in the midfield. He brought his usual quality, and often the opposition stood off him, no doubt realising he is always one step ahead. His early long ball through to Lingard late in the first half left only the keeper to beat, but the last defender pulled him down from behind, earning himself a very friendly yellow card. Berbatov’s struck the resultant free kick off the wall for a corner, and then volleyed Brady’s corner from the edge of the box drawing a fingertip save. The energy and attacking intentions of Lingard and Berbatov meant that Scholes was often not long included as United surged quickly through the middle. Carrick played well, but was restrained tactically due to the inexperience at the back.
Berbatov’s control and speed-of-thought left the crowd gasping, and he was integral to the midfield domination that United held throughout the first half. With Scholes behind him, and Lingard always available, the Bulgarian regularly turned possession into attack at the blink of an eye. His fellow forwards should have scored more from his intelligent passing. Javier Hernandez has some way to go before the season starts, and was the rustiest of the three. Federico Macheda played quite well, considering his disastrous loan spells and the sketchy form he has shown since his stunning debut three years ago. His goal in the 20th minute was well taken through the legs of the rapidly advancing keeper, after running onto Berbatov’s excellent through-ball. Whether or not he will shine in the Premiership this season remains to be seen, but his attitude and work-rate was good. Anderson replaced Macheda on 58 minutes, and took quite a while to find his feet. Not the best display considering his effervescent hour during training the night before. His touch deserted him, so it took him a while to settle in. He did improve in the latter stages, aided by the arrival of the fresh legs of Davide Petrucci and Ryan Tunnicliffe (for Scholes and Lingard) in the 70th minute. Petrucci hit the bar and Tunnicliffe put himself about effectively, both will be happy enough with their twenty minute debuts.
The loudest and longest applause was reserved for the arrival of Shinji Kagawa. The cheers started in the 80th minute, as it became apparent that he was warming up to replace a struggling Hernandez. He was ready to come on in the 82nd minute, but the ball would not go out for another 6 minutes (which included Petrucci’s strike against the bar), leaving him and the crowd a little frustrated. To everyone’s joy our newest recruit Shinji Kagawa finally made his debut on 89 minutes.
Man-of-the-Match was justly awarded to the tireless Dimitar Berbatov. Sir Alex recognised that the team tired in the second half. He was pleased with Scott Wootton, and believes that Jesse Lingard has a great future in store, after he puts on a few pounds. He was also very pleased to be able to give a Manchester United victory to Nelson Mandela on his 94th birthday.