It was a tale of two halves as Manchester United drew 2-2 with Aston Villa on Saturday, with the treacherous conditions in Perth adding a different dynamic on the pre-season tour so far.
How did United set up?
The notable absentee in the United squad before kick-off was Scott McTominay. The Scottish international was withdrawn at half-time against Crystal Palace last time out and was replaced by Donny van de Beek, with the latter starting his first game of pre-season against Steven Gerrard’s side. On the subject of midfield, James Garner was in the squad for the first time on tour, too.
There was a return to the matchday squad for Raphael Varane, but it was Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire who retained their starting spots at centre-back.
There were two main teams across the ninety minutes in match four of pre-season, as shown here…
First half lineup:Embed from Getty Images
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Harry Maguire (CB), Victor Lindelof (CB), Luke Shaw (LB), Donny van de Beek (CM), Fred (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CAM), Jadon Sancho (RW), Marcus Rashford (LW), Anthony Martial (ST).
Subs: Tom Heaton, Matej Kovar, Nathan Bishop Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Ethan Laird, Will Fish, Eric Bailly, Raphael Varane, Alex Telles, Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, Hannibal Mejbri, Tahith Chong, Facundo Pellistri, Amad Diallo, Alejandro Garnacho.
66’ onwards lineup:
Starting XI: David de Gea (GK), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB), Eric Bailly (CB), Raphael Varane (CB), Tyrell Malacia (LB), Alex Telles (CM), James Garner (CM), Zidane Iqbal (CAM), Tahith Chong (RW), Anthony Elanga (LW), Hannibal Mejbri (ST).
Subs: Tom Heaton, Matej Kovar, Nathan Bishop, Ethan Laird, Will Fish, Charlie Savage, Facundo Pellistri, Amad Diallo, Alejandro Garnacho.
How it went down
Captain Maguire was involved in the opposition box early on, with the Englishman’s towering header saved by Emiliano Martinez following Shaw’s corner. It was the first real attacking play of any substance inside the first ten minutes.
It was Villa’s turn to threaten shortly afterwards when Matty Cash let rip from 25 yards, but the low, drilled strike never really troubled De Gea, who appeared to have his angles covered.
Former Liverpool and Barcelona man Phillipe Coutinho was booked for dissent after Shaw won both the man and the ball in a feisty defensive challenge.Embed from Getty Images
Whilst not setting the world alight, the Red Devils were definitely the team on top in the first half, and this was shown in the 25th minute when Sancho opened the scoring. A terrific team move started from De Gea’s goal-kick and saw play switched from right to left in the middle of the pitch. Eventually, Rashford found Shaw on the overlap, and the left-back delivered a delightful cross to Sancho who tucked the ball away on the volley beyond a helpless Martinez in the Villa goal.
Sancho could have had another in the 38th minute, but Fernandes’ cross was not controlled well enough by the former Dortmund man and the chance was fluffed. Moments later, Rashford fired narrowly wide from range, with United probing for another.
Deservedly, the lead was added to before the interval, with a Cash own-goal making it two. Fred played a tidy ball over the top to Sancho on the right-hand side with a torrential onslaught of rain coming down at the Optus Stadium. The winger played a quick ball across to Rashford, looking to set him up on the volley. Rashford completely slashed at the ball inside the box, but fortunately for him, the miscued shot looped straight off Cash and into the top corner.
There were no changes for the Reds at halftime, with Erik Ten Hag presumably happy with what he had seen so far. Douglas Luiz and Leon Bailey came on for Villa, though, with Gerrard looking to infuse some life into a lethargic Villa side.Embed from Getty Images
There was an instant impact from Bailey in the 49th minute when he got one back for his team. The former Leverkusen winger picked the ball up on the right flank, running at Lindelof with pace. He managed to work the ball onto his left foot and the Jamaican was able to fire a curling strike beyond Lindelof, Maguire and De Gea, and into the bottom right-hand corner.
United nearly restored their two-goal cushion just before the hour mark when Sancho drove a low cross into the area. The cross deflected off Ezri Konsa, but goalkeeper Robin Olsen reacted well to stop the ball ending up in his net.
Gerrard’s men looked rejuvenated in the second half and they really should have levelled things up when Bailey took the ball beyond De Gea, but failed to convert from a tight angle when Maguire slid in brilliantly to deny him. It was captain Harry to the rescue.
There were six changes made by Villa not long afterwards, with ex-United man Ashley Young one of the players to come on at 37 years old. This was followed up by ten changes from the United bench, with Garner making his first appearance on tour.
With around ten minutes left, Chong was harshly booked and Bailly made a trademark acrobatic clearance, with De Gea cutting out a cross sharply, all in quick succession.Embed from Getty Images
Bailly was booked late on after throwing Emiliano Buendia to the ground rather ruthlessly.
It was heartbreak at the depth with Callum Chambers equalising with the very last kick of the game. The corner was swung in with pace and curl, and with all the United players stagnated to the spot, the former Arsenal man rose highest to head home beyond a stranded De Gea in the 93rd minute.
Final score: Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa (Sancho 25’, Cash (OG) 42’) (Bailey 49’, Chambers 90+3)
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
Jadon Sancho looked like the best player on the pitch in the eyes of many fans on Saturday. The 22-year-old rounded off a brilliant team move to score his third goal in four games on the pre-season tour, and the South London-born man played a pivotal role in the making of the second goal (you could argue he got an assist, in theory).
Also, in a very slow second half, he produced the cross that was nearly turned into his own net by Konsa, which was probably United’s greatest chance of the half to be honest.
It was hardly scintillating from Sancho, but it was another solid showing for a man with a big season ahead.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
Whilst it is disappointing to lose the winning streak under the new manager, there are positives to be taken from the showing against Aston Villa.
United were the team on top for much of the first half and were never really troubled by a strong Villa side. It is worth remembering that no team in the Premier League will produce breathtaking attacking football in every single match, so it was good to see the Reds be capable of managing a game on their own accord, probing to create openings, whilst not being troubled at the other end. The team would not have been able to do that in recent years.
On a more downbeat note, reality bites. It is evident from today that Martial, Rashford and Sancho cannot carry the forward line and that alternatives are needed to liven a game up. Telles ended up at centre-midfield today, with the only fit senior midfielders being Fred and van de Beek. Youngsters Savage and Iqbal are promising, but they cannot be the immediate backups for Fred, McTominay and van de Beek if the club compete on four fronts next year.
Some of the young players look in need of a loan. Granted, they are getting the last half-hour of games and so might be struggling for rhythm, but nobody in the front four positions are shining when they are brought on.
Positives and negatives can be taken, just as it is with most football games.
Next up for Erik Ten Hag and Manchester United is Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in Norway. The game is taking place on Saturday 30th July in the capital city of Oslo at the Ullevaal Stadium. The kick-off is 12:45 (BST).