Inter Milan vs. Manchester United: What Louis van Gaal Learned

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

Inter Milan vs. Manchester United: What Louis van Gaal Learned

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    Inter Milan vs. Manchester United saw an ambitious United side fail to break down a well-organised Inter unit, but what were the takeaways for the new United boss?

    The framework of the International Champions Cup meant that a winner had to be decided and United's eventual win on penalties felt deserved on the balance of play.

    United retained their spot at the top of Pool A, and will progress to the final against the winners of Pool B should they avoid defeat in normal time in Saturday's clash with Real Madrid.

    After the game, Louis van Gaal was happy, saying "I think we played by far the best match of our sequence of three," per the club's website

    There were certainly some fine moments, although perhaps in spite of Van Gaal's positive comments, he will be disappointed that United did not find a breakthrough in the course of 90 minutes.

    Here are some things he may have learned from the game.

Ashley Young Can Do a Job at Wing-Back

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    Ashley Young played the full 90 minutes, playing 45 minutes in each wing-back position. The much-maligned winger did a reasonable job in both halves.

    His performance did not set the world alight, but given how much criticism he has received, playing reasonably well should boost his confidence.

    With places for wingers hard to come by in Van Gaal's new system, Young will be keen to demonstrate that he can provide wing-back cover. He looked equally at home on either flank. He put in a couple of reasonable crosses and some good deliveries from corners.

    He managed his defensive duties well, and Inter had little joy on the flanks, although they did not provide a real test in that regard.

    There were mistakes, a few stray passes and crosses, but overall it was a quietly impressive performance in what is a new role for Young.

Shinji Kagawa Is Better at No. 10.

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    Speaking about Shinji Kagawa after the game, Van Gaal said, per ManUtd.com:

    I know him from Borussia Dortmund and he played in the No. 10 position. I wanted to try him in the No. 6 or No. 8 position in our system in the first two matches, and then I also gave him a chance at No. 10 because he wanted to play in that position. He did it much better than in the two matches before.

    It is no surprise to those of us who are fans of Kagawa that he was more impressive in his natural role behind the forwards. He had his first run out of the tour in that role, coming on at half-time to replace Juan Mata, and he looked in fine touch.

    It was certainly not a perfect performance, but Kagawa's fluidity of movement and his use of the ball are a joy to watch in the moments when he finds his best form.

    There is only one spot as a playmaker up for grabs in Van Gaal's system, and Mata looks to be first choice. With no European football at Old Trafford in the coming season, opportunities for rotation will be limited. It remains to be seen whether Kagawa will get the chance to show what he can do.

    There were glimpses of that in this game, and as always, they were a sight to behold.

Welbeck Is Key to Van Gaal's System

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    There was a moment in the first half, which eventually led to a chance for Mata to put in a dangerous ball.

    Darren Fletcher played a short pass from the centre circle to Wayne Rooney, who had dropped deep. Rooney found Mata, who flicked the ball back to Fletcher, as Rooney bombed on. Thanks to some intelligent movement, Danny Welbeck found himself some space and Fletcher pinged a longer pass forward to him.

    What had been a nice interchange of passing turned into something special at this point as Welbeck flicked the ball with the inside of his boot through to Mata, in the midst of a mid-air 180-degree spin. Mata and Rooney went on to exchange a one-two, before Mata found himself unable to provide the telling final ball.

    Welbeck's involvement encapsulated just why he is so important in providing a link between attack and midfield. He dropped deep once Rooney made his forward run and was able to conjure a moment of improvisation which wrong-footed the defence.

    In combination with his pace and strength, Welbeck's technique makes him invaluable in this system. Van Gaal will have a real challenge on his hands when Robin van Persie is available for selection. Leaving out Welbeck in favour of Rooney or Van Persie will significantly affect United's movement and fluidity.

Life Could Be Tough for Wingers at Old Trafford

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    With the switch to the use of wing-backs, those wingers in the squad who cannot adapt may find chances thin on the ground.

    Wilfried Zaha had his first involvement in the tour in this game, playing 45 minutes as a forward. It is hard to gauge his quality, given how little he has played, but he looked mostly like a winger playing out of position.

    Nani faces a similar problem, and he was substituted at the 75-minute mark in spite of only being brought on at half-time.

    With Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young demonstrating their competence at wing-back, they look to have found a niche. For Nani and Zaha, this could feel like a very long season. If either or both of them preferred a move away from United it would not be difficult to understand.

Wayne Rooney Looks in Fine Form

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    Although Rooney did not continue his scoring run, he maintained his fine overall form in this match.

    I have long held a pet theory that Rooney's first touch and passing range are an excellent barometer of his form, and both looked good against Inter. When he is at his best, everything looks to come to him so easily. When he is not at his best, it all looks so hard. 

    This game fell into the former bracket. Full of running and bustle, Rooney was involved in most of United's good attacking play in the first half.

    In spite of the praise lavished on Rooney last season, his overall play rarely looked like that of a world beater.

    If Rooney is keen to impress Van Gaal, and the Dutchman can unlock his best form, United fans could be in for a treat.