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Manchester United

Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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50-50 Challenge: United vs. Liverpool

50-50 Challenge
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Young and Fletcher thriving under LVG

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti believes Louis van Gaal is the right man to lead Manchester United going forward.

Real Madrid currently field the world's most expensive player, and they have the world's most expensive team. At present, they are also the European champions and the yardstick against which all other clubs measure themselves. At the Big House in Michigan, they were subdued by the dual talents of Ashley Young and Darren Fletcher. Is it too early to offer Louis van Gaal a pay rise?

Although it may be premature to expect a 100-million euro bid from Madrid for Young's services, the change in his fortunes over the past 10 months is quite remarkable. While he still has some way to go before he can enjoy the popularity of some of his teammates, his contribution to United's tactical game cannot be denied.

Louis van Gaal was clear in his assertion that every player would be given a chance. To his credit, it looks as though Ashley Young is taking it, and his involvement in United's two goals in the first half was impressive.

Young opened the scoring to cap a wonderful passage of play from United containing more than 20 passes. On the edge of the Madrid box, a fantastic one-two with a back-heel between Rooney and Fletcher sliced open the Spanish side's defence and set Young up with the shooting chance.

Buoyed by his fine early finish, Young started getting the best of Alvaro Arbeloa on the left and his cross-come-shot found its way past Iker Casillas to put United ahead again after 36 minutes. Rooney might claim the goal, but it didn't look like he'd touched it. Young's pace and in-swinging deliveries were too much for Madrid and can be a potent weapon for United this season.

Ashley Young scored against Real Madrid and has looked revitalised in United's tour of America.

Another man benefiting from van Gaal's new system is Darren Fletcher. Captain here for the third time on the tour, the Scot put in his best performance by far and unleashed United's first decent shot from 18 yards, watching it skim just past the post.

Being part of a busy, five-man midfield gives Fletcher the chance to burst forward and strike with more freedom than before. In recent years, he has been deployed as a kind of cleaner for United's midfield, tasked with mopping up after his teammates. This new role pushes him forward more, and it is working for him. He is looking as good as he has since 2009.

While United can take great heart from the manner in which they challenged and often outplayed Madrid, the performance comes with several caveats. Firstly, United are a week further into their preseason, and the difference in tempo between the two sides was noticeable. Also, a certain Mr. C. Ronaldo was left on the bench recovering from injury, making only a late cameo appearance.

Nonetheless, Madrid put in enough meaty tackles, and an inevitable off-the-ball scuffle involving Sergio Ramos, to suggest that this was a game they wanted to win. In addition, Gareth Bale is a pretty formidable opponent to face at the best of times.

The Welshman had two chances during the opening half. First, he won and scored a penalty with the ruthlessness you would expect of a 100-million euro player. Shortly afterward, he forced David de Gea into an excellent save from his perfectly executed overhead kick. There will be plenty of teams that won't be able to cope with him this season.

- Chicharito off to Juventus?
- Ronaldo hints at United return
- Van Gaal: New signings not necessary

As in most of the games on this tour, with a raft of substitutions, the second half had the feel of a more casual affair, but Van Gaal and United had made their point. They deserve to be at Europe's top table, and a high finish in the Premier League next season is of crucial importance.

The early signs from America could not be more encouraging. The great difference between this summer's exploits and last year's trip to Asia can be found in the dynamism of the play. United's players move off the ball in a manner that suggests they are following a plan, yet there is great variety in how they move the ball forward, too.

Further back, the centre-backs are showing the discipline to close down space as soon as possession is lost. Madrid were never allowed to get into their rhythm and, were it not for Bale, they would have registered nothing at all in the first hour.

For this version of United, it seems that tactical discipline is key. If the players continue to take on Van Gaal's message, then they will be able to play teams of this quality in more than just friendlies next year.

On the evidence of this game, the new manager's lessons are beginning to take.

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