Manchester United rounded off their pre-season tour with a 1-1 draw against Spanish outfit Rayo Vallecano, a game that was a mixed bag in the eyes of many fans with both positives and negatives to be taken from it.
How did United set up?
Due to the fact that United played Atletico Madrid over in Oslo just 24 hours beforehand, the team that lined up against Vallecano saw wholesale changes.
The likes of Harry Maguire, Tyrell Malacia, Bruno Fernandes and many other senior first-teamers who played at the Ullevaal Stadium were not included in the matchday squad for the game at Old Trafford, but new signings Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez were both given a full debut at the Theatre of Dreams.
There was an opportunity to impress from the start for Ethan Laird and Alejandro Garnacho, whilst youngsters Charlie McNeil, Charlie Wellens and Isak Hansen-Aaroen were part of the substitute’s bench for the first time.
Cristiano Ronaldo also made his long-anticipated return to the team.
Here were the starting lineup and substitutes…
Starting XI: Tom Heaton (GK), Ethan Laird (RB), Raphael Varane (CB), Lisandro Martinez (CB), Alex Telles (LB), James Garner (CM), Donny van de Beek (CM), Christian Eriksen (CAM), Tahith Chong (RW), Alejandro Garnacho (LW), Cristiano Ronaldo (ST).
Subs: Matej Kovar, Nathan Bishop, Will Fish, Eric Bailly, Charlie Savage, Charlie Wellens, Zidane Iqbal, Hannibal Mejbri, Isak Hansen-Aaroen, Shola Shoretire, Amad Diallo, Charlie McNeil.
How it went down
There was cause for concern early in the contest when the visitors got down Laird’s side in the first moments, but it came to nothing following Heaton’s save. Los Vallecanos maintained the early pressure with a high press, but the Heaton-Martinez-Varane trio dealt with it well.
Garnacho looked lively on the left wing with his pace and agility, making an impressive handful of dribbles across the course of the match in a manner that many fans have described as reminiscent of Ryan Giggs. One of those runs managed to tee up Chong on the opposite flank, but the Dutch winger produced a tame effort that never troubled the keeper in the 15th minute.
Eriksen got fans off their seats just after the half-hour mark with a teasing curling effort, but the full debutant’s shot went just wide of the post.
A sky-high effort from Chong just before halftime opitimised frustrations for Ten Hag and Reds fans, but there were positives to be taken from new, fresh faces and partnerships in the team.
There was a change from both sides at the break. Ronaldo was swapped for Diallo after playing the first minutes of his personal pre-season so far (you would expect that it was planned well in advance). Rayo brought on Diego Lopez for Stole Dimitrievski in between the sticks, with the latter being relatively untested in the first half.
United took the lead in the 48th minute and it was Diallo who broke the deadlock. Following a powerful strike from Telles that was fumbled by Lopez, the Ivorian forward pounced onto the rebound as any good striker would, managing to get there before the defender and bury it home from close range to get his first goal of pre-season.
The Reds were almost pegged back by former player Radamel Falcao just minutes afterwards. The Columbian striker curled an effort towards goal from outside the area, but it rattled off the crossbar in front of the East Stand and the score remained 1-0.
Although, it didn’t remain like that for long, with Alvaro Garcia reacting quickest to a loose ball and putting it away after Heaton had originally kept Isi Palazon’s effort out.
Another couple of pre-planned changes occurred, with Eriksen and Martinez swapped for Mejbri and Bailly on the hour mark.
United’s goal scorer showed great willingness and determination to keep the ball in as the opposition defender tried to shield it out, and was subsequently shoved over, but the resulting free-kick was high and wide in the 67th minute. Iqbal and Shoretire came into the fray in place of Garner and Garnacho afterwards.
Iqbal did come close from the edge of the area, but his dragged effort went wide of the post. That was about as good as it got in what was a stale end to an okay game.
Final score: Manchester United 1-1 Rayo Vallecano (Diallo 48’) (Garcia 60’)
Man of the match
Martinez looked tidy on his debut for the club, but young Garnacho was the livewire of the Red Devils’ attack on Sunday afternoon.
The 18-year-old showed what United have lacked for some time on the left wing with his darting runs towards goal. He is clearly quick and agile on his feet, often wriggling away from defenders with ease in tight situations.
The senior Argentine international was United greatest attacking threat, which says a lot when the almighty Ronaldo was playing alongside him. His performance was definitely worthy of a goal or an assist.
It was the first appearance of pre-season so far for Garnacho, strangely, which leads you to think that there could be a loan move in the pipeline for the FA Youth Cup winner. That could be the best thing for him, but not many fans would complain if he made up options on the bench during 2022/23 as United compete on four fronts.
The bigger picture
There were mixed emotions throughout the game; whilst Garnacho looked like the next big thing on the left, Chong looked like the next big flop on the right. It appears that Chong ought to get a move away from the club now, with the 22-year-old wasting vital years of his career in the midst of the United reserves.
Laird and Garner looked solid in their performances. The question now is whether or not the manager sees a loan move as the best fit for them. In the case of Laird, Watford are looking like strong contenders to sign him for the season, whilst you would think Nottingham Forest would want Garner for another campaign if the opportunity presented itself.
In relation to the new signings, they both looked more than good. Martinez showed the importance of a left-footed centre-back playing on the left of the defensive pairing in relation to the balance of the team. Eriksen’s link-up play looked tidy and you would think there is a spot in the starting side for him very soon.
There is no doubting that United and Ten Hag are underprepared for the new season, though. The season starts in a week’s time and the midfield consists of Scott McTominay, Fred, van de Beek and Garner. If one of the forwards get injured, Ten Hag will have to resort to the youth. Of course, that could be the making of a young player, but it could probably be too much too soon.
Next up for Manchester United is their Premier League season opener against Brighton and Hove Albion, with the game taking place this coming Sunday at 14:00 (BST).