For their first match on tour United faced Borussia Dortmund in Shanghai. With a number of additional regular squad members now available and facing more accomplished opposition it seemed likely that Jose Mourinho would field a much changed side. Or would he give further chances to the youngsters who so impressed at Wigan?


Given the humid conditions in Shanghai it was surprising that this game started at a very high tempo; both teams set up as 4-2-3-1. The most notable features of United’s side were Memphis playing as the most advanced striker and Blind playing as one of the two deep midfield players. He tended to be the one staying deep whilst Herrera was the player to push on. For Dortmund Former United man Kagawa played as the number 10 behind start striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.

1st half Borussia-Dortmund-Summer-Tour-Asia-2016

United’s first half shape and Valencia who seemed to struggle against the Dortmund press

From the first minute Dortmund pressed United in very high areas with considerable energy. United often struggled to hold the ball when their opponents did this but in the early stages of the match the two teams cancelled each other out. A pattern quickly emerged where Dortmund having won possession kept the ball and passed it quickly and with some precision, when United had the ball Dortmund’s press saw United try to move the ball forward quickly with a long early pass towards Lingard or more usually the highest front man Memphis. These balls weren’t really accurate enough but United nearly got in behind the Dortmund high line on a couple of occasions. If a long pass did find a forward runner they had little support or their combination play was not accomplished enough to set up chances. Both teams almost created chances but the game was frustrating because the forwards play was not quite coordinated enough to do so.

One thing that was clear was that Dortmund are weeks ahead of United at this stage of pre-season in fitness as well as sharpness. This became more evident as the half wore on.

On 19 minutes United conceded. Blind conceded a foul in the centre of the pitch trying to recover when a player had got beyond his position. A long shot was parried by Johnstone in the United goal. He should have either held this or pushed it past the post. He made an excellent shot from the rebound but couldn’t stop a third shot on goal as the defence failed to react to the loose ball. Gonzalo Castro scored to make the score 0-1.

A couple of points are worth making about United’s ability to handle the press. Firstly Blind in midfield struggled to recover on a number of occasions when Dortmund pressed and a player got beyond the United man’s position. He conceded several fouls in this situation, including the one that led to the goal. Secondly Jones needs to curb his instinct to dive in. But we know about these issues already, the surprising issue was Valencia’s vulnerability. Maybe Dortmund were targeting him but he got caught in possession on numerous occasions.

United conceded again on 35 minutes when Valencia handled in the box and Aubameyang stepped up to fire home a penalty. United’s play now became a little sloppy with Jones giving the ball way in dangerous areas, but then as if from a completely different match United put together a wonderful passing move from deep in their own half. Dortmund pressed but United passed their way around it from deep in their own penalty area with a series of quick first time passes which saw the ball reach Mata in the middle of the pitch. He suddenly had time and pace but hesitated, was closed down and lost the ball. That was a disappointing end to the move but it was a glimpse of something we hadn’t seen from United in a half when Dortmund had not allowed United much time on the ball.

United faced a 0-2 deficit at half time.


United made four half-time substitutions replacing Johnstone, Jones, Lingard and Memphis with Romero, Rojo, Young and Rashford. Young replaced Lingard on the left but there was also a change to United’s shape. Rashford stayed wide on the left with Mkhitaryan moving central so that United had a box of four players in the middle, Herrera and Blind in the deep and Mata and Mkhitaryan higher up. United then didn’t have a central striker in a high central position.

2nd half  960

United’s shape and Mkhitaryan who scored his first United goal

This was interesting as initially they went through a short period where they looked brighter. They no longer passed early and long but instead tried to play a more compact game through the middle. What is really interesting is that whilst you might say that that this was understandable having taken Memphis’s pace off they had replaced it with the pace of Rashford. This experiment wasn’t about personnel then, maybe it was about making United play differently either in response to Dortmund’s shape and press or an exercise in making United play a more composed game through the centre of the pitch. What was also clear immediately was that Sokrates the Dortmund centre back was at least as quick as Rashford.

After United initially looked brighter Dortmund retook control of the game, continued to press and then scored. This goal came in the 56th minute and was a solo effort from Dembele. He picked up the ball on the right of the Dortmund midfield and beat first Shaw and then Rojo through the inside right channel, both of whom dived in. He then beat Romero at his near post with a shot from the edge of the box.

Fortunately United then scored themselves almost immediately. Perhaps because they had just scored to secure a three goal lead Dortmund for a moment didn’t press. This allowed Blind who picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch, time to look up and feed an excellent slide rule pass through the middle of the pitch to Mata. The precision and timing of this pass saw Mata run in behind the Dortmund back line and had the coolness to look up and play a square pass to Mkhitaryan who had a simple tap in for 1-3. That goal came in the 58th minute. If the change of shape was designed to make this sought of goal it worked.

The game now deteriorated via a raft of substitutions. On 60 minutes Dortmund made seven. Then on 65 minutes McNair replaced Mkhitaryan and Januzaj replaced Blind for United. McNair played in midfield alongside Herrera, somewhere he has played for Northern Ireland. Januzaj started on the left with Rashford now taking up a more conventional position as a central striker. The McNair midfield experiment lasted nine minutes until Pereira was introduced to the midfield with McNair moving to left back as Valencia made way. All the substitutions prevented a clear pattern emerging but Dortmund were clearly on top with United lacking the fitness levels to match the Germans.

To finish the game Dortmund scored a late goal. Again this came through the inside right channel with Castro running at the United defence. No one closed him down allowing him time to get a great shot in beating Romero with a shot across the goalkeeper into the top left hand corner. Final score 1-4.


  • Don’t read too much into the result, Dortmund are a good side but they are clearly far fitter and further on in their pre-season preparation than United. They deserved to win but this was a good work out for the reds.
  • United struggled to deal with the Dortmund press, especially in the first half when they often rushed the ball forward quickly. In the second half with a subtle change of shape and emphasis they were able to keep the ball a little better and at least scored a good goal.
  • It was good to see Luke Shaw get 90 minutes under his belt.