Last night, Manchester United made it five wins out of five from the pre-season tour, beating Barcelona 2-1 in Washington. Whilst you can’t read too much in to results from a pre-season, like Liverpool fans would tell you after the batterings they received off Hull and Galatasary, it’s good to see United playing well and scoring so freely.
In our previous game we had easily seen off the MLS All Stars, which included the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry. I wasn’t looking forward to playing Barcelona though, even without Messi in the side. I couldn’t see what it would achieve. The likely outcome was we’d lose, given how brilliant this Barca team is, but even if we managed to beat them, so what? It’s just a pre-season friendly.
Following our 2-1 victory, I’m not now going to get over-excited, talking up our chances of finally getting our own back on the Spaniards, but I am pleased with how our lads played and the confidence that will come for some of them from getting a result like that.
Just three players from our starting team at Wembley were present in the starting team on Saturday night, compared to the six from Barcelona, which made way for our younger players to test themselves against Europe’s best. De Gea (20), Rafael (21), Evans (23), Cleverley (21), Anderson (23) and Welbeck (20) were all in the starting line-up, which an average age of our first XI of 23.8.
Nani and Cleverley fought it out for our man of the match, both of them with points to prove for different reasons. Our Portuguese winger didn’t kick up a fuss about Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision not to start him in the Champions League final, claiming that the manager always knows best, although he obviously wanted to show what he could have done at Wembley if he’d been picked.
Cleverley has spent the season on loan at Wigan and is eager to show he’s ready to make that step up to playing for our first team. United are still on the look out for a world class replacement for Paul Scholes and rightly so. Cleverley will get the chances he deserves regardless of whether we sign someone special or not, but it would be foolish to claim we shouldn’t be more determined than ever to bring in a Sneijder or Nasri.
The first goal came from Evans winning the ball on the edge of the box and passing to Welbeck, who raced forward and played the ball at the perfect moment to allow Nani to beat the offside trap. His pace was startling, leaving the Barcelona defenders for dead, and slotting the ball through the legs of Valdes. It was only when you saw the replay you realised Nani was onside. He looked miles off, judging by how far away he was from the defenders when he received the ball.
The winning goal came after Cleverley pounced on a lose ball at the half-way line and broke forward. Like with the first goal, the timing with the pass forward was perfect, and a cool finish from Owen wrapped up the win.
Barcelona surprised me in how competitively they played, with snidey challenges and lots of play acting in an attempt to win freekicks and penalties. It’s also interesting to note that, according to Opta Stats, they made 838 passes in the game, 61 more than at Wembley, and completed 93% of them. The goal scored by Thiago was perfect, curving away from the goalie and in to the top corner, and was an example of the quality they have. Iniesta played some lovely football on the edge of the box at times, with flicks and first touch passes which would make any player jealous, yet with all the passes he picked out, our defence had an answer to it.
Of course this is just a pre-season friendly and of course neither side played with the real edge you would expect from a game that really mattered. It was enjoyable to watch though and the self-belief that will come from it is a great platform for our squad to start the season on.