Manchester United Tour: Berbatov Beats Amazulu 1-0 on Mandela's Birthday
Nelson Mandela was 94. Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand are collectively 95.
It was certainly a day for the old boys when Manchester United took on Amazulu in a packed World Cup Stadium.
You could have closed your eyes and drifted on the back of a wave of vuvuzuelas to those balmy nights two years ago.
If you'd opened them, you could be forgiven for thinking you were at Old Trafford four years ago, as the elderly citizens of United gave their aspiring young colleagues a footballing lesson.
A meaningless result
The outcome was a 1-0 win for United, with Federico Macheda scoring a well-taken goal.
If this had been the first match of the season rather than preseason you'd have every reason to be worried. In general, United were poor, but they didn't have to be much more than that.
The match itself had much more meaning in terms of the new players coming in, especially the "Class of 2011." But what most people were looking forward to was seeing Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell.
They were disappointed. Powell never took the field, and Kagawa was lined up as a substitute on 82 minutes, only to watch the ball stay in play for a further six without stoppage, extraordinary in itself.
When he came on, he played in the No. 10 position, which he says he prefers, and there was just time to see him play one exquisite short ball to Chicharito which came to nought.
Watching the match you might be left asking why on earth Sir Alex Ferguson is pursuing Luka Modric, Lucas Moura or Moutinho. Two of his senior players put on virtuoso performances that would have graced any contest in any stadium in the world.
We drooled at Andrea Pirlo's performance at Euro 2012, but Carrick was every bit as good last night. Yes, he rarely gave the ball away and he intercepted and won tackles as he normally does. But on the night he made his colleague Paul Scholes look like a gifted amateur.
Even Carrick was put in the shade by a stunning display by Dimitar Berbatov. One was left not quite sure whether it was because he is in the shop window or if he was making a point to Ferguson.
Playing in an uncharacteristic playmaker role, behind two strikers, Berbatov was every bit as good as Zinedine Zidane in his prime.
His tricks, flicks, passes, shots and general movement were utterly sublime. He was the conductor of an orchestra of mixed abilities, but he literally ran the entire game from the upper middle of the park.
On the basis of that display, Fergie, why on earth sign another midfielder? You have Cleverly, Anderson, Powell, Tunnicliffe and Petrucci all with further development potential, and Kagawa as the finished product. Berbatov, Carrick, Rooney and Scholes can carry the midfield for at least the next two years.
It was also a night to consider other possibilities.
With more than half the first-team squad elsewhere, pragmatism ruled for Fergie, who looked completely relaxed all night.
To some it might have seemed a bizarre starting lineup. I wrestled all evening with what the formation actually was. At times it looked like a bunch of playground kids.
Certainly Amazulu were better organised and had more shots, but they were more interested in keeping the ball boys busy than actually scoring.
A couple of efforts did give us the chance to see what a fine keeper Anders Lindegaard is. He was already putting down a marker for the new season. He is well-organised, has great anticipation and reflexes. He gives his defence the confidence that Schmeichel and Van der Sar did.
So eventually I settled on 4-2-2-2. Neither of the two new signings started. The defence was always going to have a scratch look about it, with Ferdinand the only senior member on the tour, shepherding his young charges.
The team that took the field therefore was:
Veseli Wootton Ferdinand Brady
It may be that Sir Alex intended Macheda to play alongside Berbatov in a three, but Macheda was clearly intent on showing Sir Alex why he should be fourth (or even fifth) striker this season.
To be fair, apart from Berbatov's blocked efforts, Macheda looked like a proper striker and in his early efforts was better than Andy Carroll—not difficult. In the end, Kiko scored an excellent goal through the legs of the keeper from an acute angle and could have had more.
Lingard looked much stronger, although a little out of depth at times. He is a talented ball-player, has a footballing brain and I still have hopes that he can emulate Ryan Giggs.
In general, United passed the ball well and at speed, but unlike previous preseasons they never threatened to turn the score into an avalanche.
At the back they looked pretty sound except for the odd bout of disorganisation, most notably on one occasion when Ferdinand got a rush of blood, surged upfield and when the attack broke down there was almost nobody at home.
Among the substitutions,Tyler Blackett looked strong and excellent. He is certainly a prospect, raw with a lot of development to do, but Zeki Fryers will soon be a distant memory when this lad gets going. He has tremendous self-belief and a rocket of a left foot.
Marnick Vermijl is, in my opinion, the reason why Ferguson didn't need to look at Mathieu Debuchy. He is a solid defender with excellent pace. Watch out for him this season as a deputy for Rafael.
Tunnicliffe was his usual competent self and again has all the components to make the defensive midfield slot his own.
Apart from the result and the occasional awful disarray, the big disappointment on the night was Chicharito.
Given 90 minutes to find his form, he showed he is still way off the mark—literally. He missed a not-difficult-for-him chance almost immediately, which he scuffed. On another occasion he shot straight at the keeper.
Again he was caught offside too often and on this display alone, Macheda would get the nod.
But all this is academic (especially if Robin van Persie arrives). Hernandez will find his form and in the heat of battle will score. He is an impact player. We shall see much more of him later on the tour and, with only three strikers in the squad, he will get plenty of game time.
In fact, with Berbatov playing like this in the middle of the park, Chicharito may play 90 minutes of every game, which is probably what he needs.
This was the first chance to see ex-City Academy product Freddy Veseli. Supposedly a centre back (though he looks a bit diminutive) he played right wing back on the night. He looked heavy and ineffectual throughout. On this form, you can see why City let him go.
It was hardly fair for Sir Alex to expect Robby Brady to be an instant success at left wing back. He is a left wing by trade, and that part of his game looked to be in excellent order. But he is not a great tackler and tends to make up for that by being uncompromising. He was lucky not to get carded.
In truth, Ferdinand will feel he could have played better, but he led and organised the team well. Certainly Scott Wootton benefited alongside him.
So all in all, a useful run-out that has taught us very little except the physical and technical development that some players still need, including sharpness.
The South African and Chinese matches will not be taxing and will be excellent experience for the young squad members on and off the pitch. The European leg of the tour, when all the seniors will be back, will tell us much more.
No doubt Kagawa and Powell will both start against "Ajax" on Saturday. Players like Ferdinand and Carrick will also have to play with so little experience in the squad.
But the big question for me is whether we will see Dimitar Berbatov in the playmaker role again. Some of his play was utterly sublime. He remains one of the most gifted players United have ever signed. He is a throwback to the romantic days of Puskas, Di Stefano, Pele and the great Real Madrid.
If a role can be found for him, please keep him Fergie. He lit up the World Cup Stadium on Nelson Mandela's birthday.
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