Valerenga vs. Manchester United: 8 Things We Learned from Preseason Friendly
Manchester United buying Luca Moura and Robin Van Persie by the end of the week?
In that context, a preseason match against Norwegian club Valerenga seems like small beer.
So was this a meaningless friendly? Far from it. For starters, the Old Firm of Vidic and Ferdinand is back.
Although Valerenga finished only sixth in the Norwegian League, blew out of the Cup in the third round and the Europa League in the 3rd qualifying round, this was their "Champions' League." They were well-organised and massively determined, both to win and not score.
It is not unusual for top teams' preseason to be disrupted by international tournaments. This year is no exception, with United losing up to 14 players to first Euro 2012, and then the Summer Olympics.
But the backdrop to the European leg of United's preseason tour is mounting speculation of imminent major signings.
There must be something going on, because Sir Alex Ferguson has stayed back in Manchester and will not rejoin his team until Gothenberg on Wednesday.
With Brazil playing at Old Trafford on Tuesday night and rumours in the Daily Mail that Lucas Moura was having a medical in Manchester today, it is no surprise that Sir Alex has "business matters" to deal with.
So he entrusted this fixture to his number two, Mike Phelan, with the result that United
The full squad for the European leg of the preseason tour is:
De Gea, Lindegaard; Evra, Ferdinand, Jones, M Keane, Vidic; Anderson, Carrick, Nani, Powell, Lingard, Scholes, Valencia, Young; Berbatov, Hernandez, Kagawa, Macheda, Rooney, Welbeck
That does not mean that others can't be added by the time United play their last friendly against Hannover next week.
Vidic Is Back
We already know that Chris Smalling is out for up to 10 weeks with a broken metatarsal. Jonny Evans is still only in light training and was not fit to take on tour.
Thanks to Rio Ferdinand's obsession with Twitter, there is a risk that United could be without him for their first match against Everton also. And Nemanja Vidic was playing his first competitive match for almost nine months.
However, taking Michael Keane as one of only five defenders was never going to be a gamble. He is definitely part of United's future. He is very likely to get a place in the First Team squad this season and, but for his cruciate injury, so would his brother Will.
He may not be Patrice Evra flying up the wing, but he is more solid in defence, has great self-confidence (without being arrogant) and scores goals.
The Keanes are Red Devils to their core. None of the shenanigans like greedy, ungrateful mercenaries Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers. If you only ever wanted to play for United, then you only want to play for United. They will never choose to leave; only the Boss could tell them they wouldn't make it.
They'll make it.
If Rio is banned by the FA, Michael Keane could make it all the way to the bench for the Everton match. While Scott Wootton is also highly rated (along with Fornasier, Thorpe, Blackett and a few others), Keane is the pick of the crop. He could even turn out better than Jonny Evans; and he knows how to score goals.
One of the treats of this match was the chance to see United's world-class pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand restored. Who could doubt that the Premier League title would have remained at Old Trafford if Vidic had been available all last season?
If there was a curate's egg, it was that Ferdinand played on the left of central defence, as he has with Jonny Evans last season. Maybe this is because of Ferdinand's mobility, to cover for Evra when he loses the plot?
Kagawa and Powell Are the Real Deal
A couple of weeks ago, when it looked like Kagawa and Powell might be the only signings this season, there was a sense of anti-climax for some fans.
Since then, Shinji Kagawa has looked as if he could become a United legend—especially with his star performance against Shanghai Shenwa.
Sir Alex's original plans for Nick Powell may well have involved him going out on loan for his first year. Surely, someone like Roberto Martinez would love to take him, allowing him to stay in his familiar North West?
There were signs in the Asian Tour that Powell can be a real force for the future. He should have scored in China, but his movement and maturity stood out ahead of all of the youngsters coming through, with the possible exception of Tyler Blackett.
Everybody wants to know where the new Paul Scholes is coming from? Maybe it is Kagawa; maybe Lucas Moura? This time last year, it was Tom Cleverley, who had a "so-so" showing for Team GB, but at least he will come back match fit.
I don't see Powell as the new Paul Scholes, but I wouldn't be surprised if Sir Alex saw him as the new Michael Carrick. Certainly his preseason comments would suggest that the manager is not looking to sign a defensive midfielder per se. He already has Phil Jones who could be groomed for that; Ryan Tunnicliffe would be another contender in due course.
In the same article, Sir Alex described Carrick as being pivotal in the coming season, so we may well see a continuation of the United tradition of out and out attack this season, except when pragmatism dictates otherwise.
Nick Powell scored his first goal of the season against Scunthorpe on Friday.
Kagawa came on for the last 25 minutes and Powell the last 15. The Japanese player replaced Danny Welbeck and immediately looked sharp. He nearly set up Chicharito for a late goal.
There is no doubt Shinji will carry on from where he left off at Dortmund, making and scoring goals. He has fitted into this United side like a hand in a glove. He will work well in both the Premier League and the Champions League.
He receives the ball well, doesn't lose it, has quick feet, can beat a man. In short, he can do anything he's needed to. He reminded me of a young Paul Scholes today, without the passing range, but with better skill on the ball.
Nick Powell looks so self-assured when he comes on. He played in Carrick's role and looks like the latter's understudy more with each game. It's almost as if he's sussed that he's not going to get one of the attacking roles, so who can he deputise for?
I could see him keeping Tom Cleverley out of the team this year if he continues to progress. He doesn't look fazed by this level of football at all. He has a shot on him and will surely score some screamers this season.
United Need Robin Van Persie
Let's hope the rumours are true, because on this showing, United need a world-class finisher.
Rooney and Welbeck carried on where they left off for England. Nice passing and interplay; plenty of chances for Welbeck; no goals to show for it.
In truth, Rooney looked sharper than for England, and he smiled his way through the match. A relaxed Rooney augurs well for the season.
But Hernandez has forgotten where the net is, and if Welbeck doesn't get his contract sorted soon, United will need someone who can step straight in and start scoring from the word go.
Rooney and Van Persie...mouthwatering...
The Squad Is Still Rusty
There are signs that Anderson can get back to his best. He filled in for Carrick after he came on and pretty much ran midfield. He also had a delightful bending shot from the edge of the box that didn't quite dip far enough.
Nevertheless, if Lucas Moura arrives, I could still see Ando being moved on.
Of the team that started, only Lindegaard, Carrick, Scholes, Ferdinand and Valencia had featured in the previous leg of the tour. And it showed.
United played as if they needed time to get to know each other again. As the game wore on the moves became slicker, but the attack looked ring rusty from midfield to striker until Kagawa came on.
Vidic looked like he'd never been away, however.
Nani Is Still Frustrating
I'd be surprised if he hasn't got people at United bellowing in his ear, let alone whispering.
Rooney had the good grace not to scream at him, but if Sir Alex had been on the bench, Nani would have got lungfuls of the hairdryer.
My God, he's infuriating.
He seems to always do the opposite of what he should: shoots when he should pass, passes when he could shoot.
On this form, Valencia and Young are better crossers; but Nani is genuinely two-footed, can ghost past a man and create something out of nothing.
We can expect more teams to try and do what Valerenga did tonight: work rate, defence in depth, pressing the man with the ball, etc. That's where you need a Kagawa, Nani or Lucas to open up the opposition like a tin of sardines.
Nani wants to stay at United. He wants a new contract; he wants to be the best in the world. On tonight's form, he'll get a thick ear and maybe a move somewhere else to balance the books...
Scholes and Giggs Have One More Season
Yes, I know that Ryan Giggs isn't on tour, but he also didn't start either of Team GB's final two matches. Pearce was supposedly keeping him back, but it was clear he can no longer play two matches a week.
We already know that about Scholes because the Boss said so last year. He certainly can't go much more than 60 minutes in the big games. If he had been substituted earlier against Everton, the season's outcome might have been different.
He looks like he's playing from memory. Yes, he can still ping the marquee pass; yes, the red mist is descending with increasing frequency and his tackles are getting even later.
And yes, he still looks good alongside Carrick. But Carrick is supposed to be the holding midfield player; when Scholes plays beside him, they are too deep.
OK, so he got up close to the box against Valerenga, but they are equivalent to Ipswich Town.
So Scholes and Giggs still have value to United; they are excellent squad players and can do a job against lower teams. But surely, they should no longer be first choice. With younger players coming in or through, one more season will probably be enough.
United Need a Tactical Revision
For some time now, Sir Alex has been buying players with pace. He's also buying midfielders and has a few coming through from the youth.
Some might think that this presages a change to Barcelona style football. Don't think so.
United will still play the football that has always been so effective in the past: attacking or counter-attacking at pace. They are acquiring more and more players with skill on the ball.
But they need a tactical revision.
No, we're not talking about fundamental change...diamonds...Xmas trees...4-2-2-1-1 or whatever. But today's match showed that United are easy to work out.
Ferguson doesn't get stuck in ruts and will have been alarmed by the way United went into meltdown, against Basel in the ECL and then Bilbao in the Europa League.
There have been signs that they are moving to a more fluid style, even though there is no tactical rewrite yet. However, if Lucas Moura is a serious prospect with Kagawa already signed, there must be change afoot.
There has to be, because today, United were too predictable and too slow in their build-up. Any coach watching what Basel, Bilbao and Wigan did last season is going to try and make it even harder this season.
The players with skill may be able to break through packed defences; United's close passing at speed can help, but they will need to be able to do more than just switch between 4-4-2 and 4-5-1.
One way to do that is to be fearless more often. With Vidic back, Ferdinand fit, pace up front and skill in midfield, let's hope we see more of those blanket attacks that scared the opposition in the past.
No Chance Against Barcelona
Barcelona will put out a strong team next Wednesday.
Based on what we saw today, they will blow United away.
There are only a couple of things that can work in United's favour: Barca being even less fit than United, and United's new players coming good.
There are always random factors such as the pitch and the weather, but unless Sir Alex has some tactical magic up his sleeve, and with almost no "wriggle room" in defence, this should be no contest and a big wake-up call for United.
Today's opposition may be match fit from their season and with no international calls, but in truth, United hardly troubled them up front and could well have conceded a goal or two.
And none of this can be explained by Sir Alex being at Old Trafford rather than in Norway...whatever he was doing...