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International Champions Cup Final: What Louis Van Gaal Learned

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2014

International Champions Cup Final: What Louis Van Gaal Learned

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    A fine second-half turnaround saw Manchester United win the International Champions Cup final, but what can their new manager take from the game?

    Louis van Gaal's men struggled to find the fluidity of passing and solidity of defence that had defined their performances prior to this game. The heat, humidity and tiredness from the rigours of the tour may all have contributed to United's inability to find their best form.

    However, two goals in a three-minute spell in the second half saw the Red Devils wrest control of the game from their fierce rivals.

    Liverpool had chances to extend their lead when the score stood at 1-0, but Jesse Lingard's fine strike lead to an eventual 3-1 scoreline. Once the players on Van Gaal's side had their noses in front, they never looked like they would lose.

    It was a game which saw a very promising pre-season tour reach a satisfying conclusion for Van Gaal.

    Here are some things he may have learned from watching it.

Ashley Young Was the Real 'Player of the Tournament'

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Wayne Rooney was named the "player of the tournament" by the sponsors. It is hard to argue too vociferously with that decision. He has played well and scored goals throughout the competition.

    However, Ashley Young has been United's stand-out player. Yes, you read that right. This is not a drill. Ashley Young has been United's most impressive performer in pre-season.

    It is a statement that is worth making twice, so surprising it is. It would not have been at all surprising for Young to have been sold by United this summer. Instead, he returns to England as a player reborn.

    Because it is only pre-season, it is too early to describe Van Gaal's deployment of Young at wing-back as a master stroke. However, if the form he has shown continues into the season proper, then that will be an apt description.

    He has scored goals, created chances and performed his defensive duties well. He has looked comfortable on either flank.

    In the first half of this game, Young was one of the few United players who looked in form, placing more than one cross into very dangerous territory.

    Young has had prior purple patches during his United career, and how long this one will last is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Young has played his way into Van Gaal's plans, and, barring injury, his name will be on the Dutchman's first team come United's August 16 clash with Swansea City.

Wayne Rooney Looks Raring to Go

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Rooney cut a fiery figure in this game. In spite of it being a friendly, he was combative and committed. His foul on Raheem Sterling, for which he was booked, may have been unnecessary, but it stood as something of a symbol for the way he approached the game.

    He also made fine use of the ball, particularly with the beautiful finish he applied to Javier Hernandez's cross for United's first goal.

    Whilst Young may have been marginally more deserving of the "player of the tournament" gong, Rooney has had an excellent tour. If he can maintain form and fitness for large parts of the season, he could be an invaluable asset to Van Gaal.

The Defence Recovered from Its Shaky Start

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    United's defence has generally looked pretty solid on this tour. All five central defenders have had plenty of playing time. The three players with the most first-team experience started this game.

    Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones got off to a shaky start, with Jones conceding a penalty. Some angles seem to suggest it may have been a good challenge, but nonetheless, there was an uncertainty to United's defending. Liverpool got in behind them on several occasions.

    However, they grew into the game, and they looked reasonably solid after United went in front.

    Van Gaal will have been pleased by their recovery, but he may have some concerns about the early part of their performances.

There Is Plenty of Work to Be Done

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Now that the tour is over, it is clear that the positives of United's performances have substantially outweighed the negatives.

    However, there are significant concerns left for Van Gaal to face, and this game hinted at some of them.

    United still have serious issues in the centre of midfield. Ander Herrera has made a huge difference, but he cannot do it on his own. It is far from guaranteed that Michael Carrick will return from his injury in top form.

    Darren Fletcher has been outstanding on this tour, but it is unclear if he will be able to match those performances in truly competitive matches given his age and his battles with illness. Tom Cleverley has not been convincing in any of his pre-season performances.

    This game showed just how reliant United already are on Herrera, and to compete for the league, further additions are needed in the centre of the park.

    Defence is also an issue, although it will be interesting to see whether pre-season has convinced Van Gaal that Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett are up to the task of providing cover and competition for Jones, Smalling and Evans.

    It has been a wonderful tour for United fans to enjoy, and capping it off with a win against Liverpool was perfect. However, Van Gaal will know that the real work starts now.

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