Five things from Man Utd-Inter Milan
Manchester United beat Inter Milan 5-3 on penalties in the International Champions Cup on Tuesday following a goalless draw. Here are five things we learned from the match:
LVG knows how to hedge his bets
Manchester United fans have been starved of excitement over the past 12 months, and the new signings, along with Louis van Gaal's seven-goal debut, have piqued anticipation. But the new manager has already started to dampen expectations.
The 3-2 victory against Roma over the weekend would have been more than acceptable under David Moyes, and maybe even Fergie, but Van Gaal instantly expressed his dissatisfaction. "We are doing well, but we are looking for defenders," he said. "Defenders have gone, and we have to replace them."
In the aftermath of this slightly dull victory over Inter on penalties, Van Gaal highlighted that two clean sheets had been kept but again stressed the need for the defence to be strengthened.
His message is clear: We are doing well, but we need to do better. As the Dutchman knows, sustaining this form over a 38-game Premier League season is an entirely different prospect.
System is a steep learning curve for players
Chris Smalling is one of the early benefactors of the new manager's arrival and shift in formation. The 3-5-2 setup requires three centre-backs, which means Smalling can finally get a regular run in his preferred position. But it comes with greater responsibility and game awareness.
"We are learning each day and believe we can pick it up," said Smalling.
But it will inevitably take more than a couple of weeks for players brought up on 4-3-3 to master the nuances of this formation.
"Attacks start at the back. We can give midfielders the ball to hurt the opposition and like to get involved," Smalling said.
This will come as music to the ears of United fans who became frustrated with the one-dimensional wing-play on offer last season.
The evidence of this display against Inter was that the players will take time to make it look effortless. Some of United's football in this match was laboured and overelaborate.
LVG knows how to get into players' heads
Jose Mourinho was the first to highlight how much money United had spent on, and are paying, 19-year-old Luke Shaw. Certainly, remunerating someone so young, who has been exposed to the prima donna England squad, carries risk that the player will believe his own hype.
Van Gaal has stamped this out immediately by publicly declaring Shaw is "not fit enough" and forcing him to do extra training. Then, after telling him he wouldn't play, LVG threw him on for the second half against Inter. Shaw was left in no doubt that he would have to earn his right to play in this team, regardless of his price tag.
"To play in this formation, you have to be really fit," said Shaw. "I am fit, but I am not at the high level he demands."
The left-back will be taking nothing for granted.
Young not out for the count
Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young are in danger of being remembered as the men who became poster boys for the failed Moyes tenure. When United supporters think of the disappointments of last season, they inevitably remember Fellaini's lumbering and Moyes' determined persistence with Young.
In the case of Young, he has been done a disservice. He has far more in his armour than he is given credit for and is certainly more versatile than Antonio Valencia, who as a winger is a genuine one-trick pony.
Against Inter, Van Gaal used Young's pace and skill from left-back. While not a barnstorming success, it suggested that the former Aston Villa man might have the necessary ability to play as a utility man. In the second half, he moved to right wing-back seamlessly. With five midfield positions up for grabs, Young may still have a future at the club.
United need Van Persie's ruthlessness
While the caveat of a new formation is important to consider, if your team doesn't score any goals, that is always a problem. Wayne Rooney has been sensational so far on tour, but even he was unable to find the net against the more organised Serie A side.
Despite some nice buildup play and passing from Shinji Kagawa and Nani, United were unable to capitalise on the space their midfielders were creating. Things may have been different had one of their penalty appeals been granted, but one couldn't help feel that Robin van Persie would have made the difference. He remains the squad's outstanding marksman.