On the same day that transfer guru Fabrizio Romano gave an infamous “here we go” on Lisandro Martinez’s transfer to Old Trafford, Manchester United ran out 4-1 winners over Melbourne Victory in the second game of the pre-season tour.
How did United set up?
Whilst there was a return to the squad for skipper Harry Maguire, David De Gea and Raphael Varane were both absent for the clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Will Fish joined up with the squad upon arrival in Australia, with Axel Tuanzebe returning to Manchester after the victory over Liverpool amid rumours he could be on his way out of the club.
Again, similar to the Liverpool game in Bangkok, Erik Ten Hag opted to use two teams in each half of the game.
Here were the two sides…
First half lineup:
Starting XI: Tom Heaton (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Harry Maguire (CB), Victor Lindelof (CB), Luke Shaw (LB), Scott McTominay (CM), Fred (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CAM) Jadon Sancho (RW), Anthony Elanga (LW), Anthony Martial (ST).
Subs: Nathan Bishop, Matej Kovar, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Ethan Laird, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Tyrell Malacia, Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, Donny van de Beek, Hannibal Mejbri, Tahith Chong, Facundo Pellistri, Alejandro Garnacho, Amad Diallo, Marcus Rashford.
Second half lineup:
Starting XI: Tom Heaton (GK), Ethan Laird (RB), Eric Bailly (CB), Alex Telles (CB), Tyrell Malacia (LB), Charlie Savage (CM), Zidane Iqbal (CM), Donny van de Beek (CAM), Tahith Chong (RW), Marcus Rashford (LW), Amad Diallo (ST).
Subs: Nathan Bishop, Matej Kovar, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Hannibal Mejbri, Facundo Pellistri, Alejandro Garnacho.
How it went down
It was Melbourne Victory who took the lead through Chris Ikonomidis. United had a lot of possession early on, but it was a first-time finish on the breakaway to give the Australians the lead after Lindelof and Maguire were caught on their heels in the 5th minute.
It was a frustrating half for Ten Hag’s men that played out, with Tony Popovic’s Boys in Blue camped behind the ball in a defensive setup. McTominay had a couple of efforts blocked as he looked to go forward, whilst Fred resorted to blasting a couple of attempts high and wide himself.
Similar to his showing against Liverpool a few days ago, Sancho looked lively and full of intent, as did Dalot behind him, but quality lacked in the key moments as United looked to string passing sequences together.
It was in the 43rd minute when McTominay broke the barricade with a fortuitous strike. Having given the ball away through a poor pass on the right-hand side of the area, the Scotsman immediately won the ball back via an interception. He then got the ball out of his feet and let rip from around 22 yards out, with his effort deflecting wildly over the goalkeeper and into the net.
It was a quickfire turnaround from the Red Devils, with Martial’s finish putting his side in front. Sancho threaded a tidy pass through to Dalot on the right flank, with the Portuguese finding Elanga with his byline cross. Elanga cushioned it down nicely for Martial who was free in the area, and the Frenchman could not miss from close range to make it two-in-two for pre-season on a personal level.
There was an abundance of changes from Ten Hag after the interval, with the Dutch manager giving the likes of Laird and Chong their first minutes of the tour so far.
The second half took a similar style to the first, with Victory struggling to play the ball out and retain possession whilst United probed around the opposition half.
Savage and Iqbal looked tidy in possession one again. Iqbal showed great strength and skill just before the hour mark after holding off a defender and beating the next man with a clever turn.
Popovic looked to inspire his weary side with a double substitution ahead of the final twenty minutes, with Nishan Velupillay and Lleyton Brooks entering the fray in place of Stefan Nigro and Ben Folami, but Bailly and Telles were never really troubled in defence. Bailly did have one or two shaky moments, though, and was perhaps lucky to get away with some clumsy errors.
Rashford extended the lead in the 79th minute. Bailly made up for his lapses of concentration with a darting run into the midfield and a threaded through ball to captain Rashford, who saw the onrushing goalkeeper and poked the ball into the net from inside the area. It was good to see the 24-year-old get up and running on tour, as he undoubtedly has a huge season ahead.
A wholesome moment played out in the 86th minute when familiar face Luis Nani came on to make his debut for his new club. The former United man, who played for the club between 2007-2015, came on at 35-years-old and still looked in good shape.
The leaders added a fourth in stoppage time. For the first time all half, Chong made a delightful darting run beyond the defender and played a drilled ball across the box that was turned in by Edmond Lupancu, with the goal going down as an own goal.
Final score: Manchester United 4-1 Melbourne Victory (McTominay 43’, Martial 45+1’, Rashford 78’, Lupancu (OG) 90’) (Ikonomidis 5’)
Man of the match
There was no real standout performer in the first half, but Zidane Iqbal looked impressive one again in the second half.
The senior Iraq international never looked out of place against some of Liverpool’s big hitters a few days ago, and he ran the midfield effortlessly against Melbourne Victory on Friday.
The 19-year-old showed his strength, his great eye for a through ball, as well as his ability to take a man on against the Australian outfit, with his partnership with Savage continuing to flourish.
Fans will hope to see more of Iqbal as the tour endures, and perhaps even see the Mancunian-born man in the more senior competitions next season.
The bigger picture
United have made it two out of two so far under the new manager, whilst managing to score an impressive eight goals in the process, conceding just the one. Fans have liked what they have seen so far, with very little to complain about.
With that being said, it is important that new faces come into the side soon. Players have performed before on pre-season tours when the pressure is off and they are looking to impress new managers. The announcements of centre-back Lisandro Martinez and playmaker Christian Eriksen seem imminent, with the new away shirt expected to be launched on Saturday.
Against Liverpool in the first game of the tour, fans were appeased by the intensity of the press and the team effort when pushing forward. Against Melbourne Victory, fans have been quick to point out the impressive turnovers in possession after losing the ball, with the team recycling play on multiple occasions in Australia and building possession sequences well. Perhaps chance creation could have been better, but there is time yet for that area to improve; the opponents quite literally parked the bus, after all. Possession was the key part of this game, and it is good to see the new manager’s style start to be implemented
In terms of individual performances, there are a few names worth mentioning. It is now two goals in two games for Martial, with the Frenchman now expected to stay at Old Trafford for the 2022/23 campaign. Iqbal and Savage once again showed maturity beyond their years. It was good to see Chong and Laird get their first minutes, but there is some way to go for them before they push to start, you would think.
Next up for Ten Hag’s Reds is Crystal Palace, again at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Manchester United will face Patrick Viera’s Eagles at 11:10 (BST) this coming Tuesday, 19th July, in four days’ time.