The pre-season is an opportunity for players to get back in the swing of things before the games that matter begin.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United have travelled the globe, winning and losing against a whole host of teams we’d never heard of before.
Following the 2006 World Cup, United travelled to South Africa and were fairly average in all of their games. Against the Kaizer Chiefs we required a late goal from Dong to wrap up a 1-0 win, before losing the final game on penalties after a 0-0 draw. Still, United went on to win the league that season.
Following the 2010 World Cup, United went to the States. They picked up some good results, but relied upon Obertan for a late goal to beat Philadelphia Union, before we lost to the Kansas City Wizards. Still, United went on to win the league that season.
This pre-season though, it’s hard to find any fault. United have played against top quality sides and they have beaten all of them. Real Madrid are the European champions and United beat them 3-1, with their only goal coming from the penalty spot. Liverpool finished 2nd last season and, again, we beat them 3-1 with their only goal a penalty. We also beat Roma and Inter, who finished 2nd and 5th respectively in Serie A, as well as LA Galaxy.
Of course, beating teams in the pre-season isn’t the same as beating them when it counts, but it would be foolish to dismiss all of these victories as meaningless.
“This will be a big game and a big test, though, and it is important to go and win this one,” Jordan Henderson said ahead of Liverpool’s defeat against us. “They still have a lot of good players and I am sure they will want to challenge for the title, but we will concentrate on ourselves and focus on building on last season.”
Brendan Rodgers emphasised the same point, insisting this wasn’t just a friendly, but a competitive game because of the rivalry between the two clubs.
“It’s more than football. It’s life,” he said, in his usual cringey way. “It is two cities, not very far apart, but historically they have always been huge rivals. It’s arguably the biggest game in the world and for it to be here in the United States is wonderful for the supporters and the organisers. They are the two biggest clubs in Britain and two of the biggest in the world so it will be a fantastic game and we are looking forward to it. Not many of these games are friendly. You saw the Manchester City game was competitive. Top players see every game as a competition. There are never too many friendlies playing for Liverpool.”
So in hindsight, people can say the result meant nothing, but both camps were saying something quite different ahead of kick-off.
We all know that if United had lost all of these games the media and rival fans would have plenty to say about our chances next season, so it would be unfair to dismiss the results now that we’ve won.
But it is about much more than the results. Of course we want them to win and get back to full fitness, but the most exciting thing about this tour is watching them play. In just a few weeks, Louis van Gaal has implemented his 3-5-2 formation and it is working brilliantly well. Even Ashley Young looks good! To see United playing with such a clear purpose is great to watch.
Last season, the football we played was dismal, and time and again you wondered what it was David Moyes was trying to do. We are seeing the opposite with Van Gaal’s tactics.
Importantly, the players get it too, with us often fielding a different XI in the second half but this has had little impact on the performance. They all have their set role and even when that position doesn’t come naturally to them, they are getting on with it and playing well.
There’s no point getting giddy though. If United can maintain this style of football, finish top four and, if I’m being greedy, win a trophy, I’ll be made up. But after such a depressing season with Moyes, it’s great to watch United and feel excited again.
As far as pre-seasons go, this has been a resounding success. Let’s hope we can carry it through to when it matters.