After a slightly fortuitous win from a disjointed performance against Roma United now moved on to Washington DC and a game against Internazionale. The manager chose to retain the same basic tactical system whilst again trailing a number of players in different positions. As in previous games he made wholesale changes at half-time.

The starting eleven for the first half was almost identical to the selection at the start of the LA Galaxy fixture. The two changes were in goal where Lindegaard started and at left wing-back where Young started ahead of Shaw or James.

abHmH5jalx        inter-milan-mu

Some of United’s football in this opening period was excellent; good periods of possession, early one touch passing played at a high tempo. United have been practicing just this in training but here against a tough opponent it was quite accomplished and this was probably the best performance of the tour so far. United were on the front foot for most of the half, with the only concern being that they created so few chances. Why?

This was simply because Inter defended well; playing with a front three they pushed all three onto United’s back three. This made it harder for United to play out from the back. They did so however with some bravery via one touch pass and move and swift adjustments of player positions. What this meant was that United ended up playing most of their good football in their own half, often taking a good period of time to cross that half way line. In response to this Rooney was tending to drop deep; one was left wondering how much more effective this performance might be with van Persie in attack. His physical presence and guile might have made it harder for Inter to compress the space.

On a couple of occasions United did find themselves in a position to use their one-touch pass and move strategy to good effect in the Inter half. One move after  37 minutes involving Fletcher, Mata, Welbeck and Rooney was breath-taking and left Inter chasing shadows. All that was missing was the finish. In one move this demonstrated the direction in which van Gaal is trying to take United.

Out of possession United pressed Inter and generally won the ball back quickly ensuring that overall United had the majority of possession and Inter were unable to get into a rhythm. Eventually they resulted to a number of long balls; meat and drink to United’s back three.

The other issue to consider is the performance of the wing-backs. Young did well as a defensive player, but the wing-back role requires a balanced approach between attack and defence. Valencia was rash with a couple of tackles and was booked. To make this system work really well United’s wing-back play needs to develop to a more accomplished level.

abHmIcgaml      International-Champions-Cup-2014-FC-Internazionale-v-Manchester-United

Van Gaal made eight changes at half time, notably introducing Shaw who earlier in the week had been identified as a player needing to improve his fitness levels. Zaha was also give his first taste of match action positioned as a central forward. Most of the players acquitted themselves well as United continued in the same vein, with the exception perhaps of Nani who only lasted 21 minutes here after half time before being replaced by Hernandez. Is the writing on the wall for this often frustrating player?

Despite playing well United failed to score and the game went to a penalty shoot-out. Van Gaal had better look with this one than in his World Cup semi-final with Holland. Fletcher, the captain for the night converted the decisive penalty.

So what have we learnt?

  • United are improving steadily as they adapt to van Gaal’s preferred approach. The approach is bold and relies upon bravery, speed, movement, intelligence and decisiveness. There is some way to go but the signs look good.
  • Wing-backs are key to the success of this system. United have demonstrated they can defend with a three, but the wider players need to get the balance between attack and defence right. Thus far on tour Reece James seems to have got closest to performing the role convincingly. Others haven’t quite got the balance right yet.
  • United need van Persie to give punch to the attack. His presence on the pitch alone will occupy the opposition.