LA GALAXY vs MANCHESTER UNITED
For their first pre-season game United faced LA Galaxy at the Stubhub Centre, an opponent United have faced and venue United have visited on previous tours to the States. A limited amount can be taken from a game like this which is about sweeping away pre-season cobwebs, but there is usually a few talking points
A game of two halves
This was really two back to back 45 minute matches with both sides making wholesale changes at the break. For United this is all about giving as many players as possible match time to increase everyone’s sharpness, for LA Galaxy this is about managing through rotation in the middle of their season.
First half strategy
United set up in a rough 3-5-2 shape. Carrick sat in front of the three man defence with Lingard and Valencia as wingbacks. Mata and Rashford started up front. LA Galaxy started as a 4-4-2.
United’s first half shape and Rashford opening the scoring
Goals change games
United scored in the first two minutes which perhaps deflated Galaxy and made the game even less of a test. We say even less of a test because Galaxy played a largely second string team in the first half with a number of inexperienced youngsters. United’s three man defence wasn’t put under any pressure at all and so any consideration of this defensive strategy would be pointless.
This lack of a challenge allowed United’s wingbacks to push on. Valencia tended to run in straight lines but Lingard was more fluid often coming inside. This meant he was often in the central zone behind Rashford.
Mata as the fulcrum
In the opening fifteen minutes United tended to hit the ball forward early from the deep looking to put the ball behind the LA Galaxy defence for Rashford to run onto. The consequence of this was that in the early stages Herrera and Fellaini were not really in the game. This changed after the first quarter of an hour as United looked to play the ball through the centre of the pitch. The ball movement now was usually through Mata who tended to drop deep into the number 10 position. He was the creative fulcrum for the rest of the half. This meant that United’s shape in attack was often a 2 of Mata and Lingard threading ball through behind Rashford, a strategy which looked to have the potential to be more effective than the early longer ball behind the LA Galaxy defence seen at the start of the match.
Rashford scored two first half goals and looked sharp. He can take great encouragement from this; last year was a mixed year for him after the excitement of his breakthrough season. He did however miss one golden opportunity to compete a hat trick in the 43rd minute when one on one with the keeper he chose to shoot when he should have gone around him to slot home or draw the foul. He took his earlier chances with cool accuracy.
All three United goals in the first half came from attacking transitions. LA Galaxy stuck to their principals of looking to play a passing game moving out progressively from the deep. The problem was that United simply compressed the play in the middle of the pitch with Herrera and Fellaini pressing and winning the ball. What usually then followed was a quick interchange of short passing to Mata and/or Lingard and a short through pass usually towards Rashford. All three United goals came from a scenario similar to this in one way or another.
Personnel changes and second half strategy
Jose changed the whole of his side at the start of the second half but retained roughly the same shape. Now Joel Pereira was positioned in front of the back three with Fosu-Mensah to the right and Darmian to the left as wingbacks. Lukaku and Marital were the front two and with Lindelof as the central of the three centre backs two players were making their first appearance in the United shirt.
Differences from the first half
There were two key differences in United’s second half strategy. Firstly Lukaku and Marital both stayed high and reasonably close to each other. They were more of a front pair than Rashford and Mata had been. Secondly the two wingbacks tended to stay deeper, at least at the start of the half. Later in the half Fosu-Mensah did push forward on occasions.
United’s second half shape and Lukaku making his United debut
With Lukaku and Martial both staying high this left creative responsibilities to those behind. Pereira was neat and tidy in front of the defence and Mkhitaryan ran the channels but Pogba was everywhere. He was positionally very fluid and ran the show. He was effective in all areas whether in the deep resisting pressure to release a longer pass or advancing towards the box and picking out the runs of Mkhitaryan and Martial around Lukaku or even Lukaku himself.
United weren’t as compact in midfield however and did not press as effectively. In fact this allowed LA galaxy more time, something they exploited in the last twenty minutes when they pulled two goals back. At that point in the game it was noticeable that there was little pressure on the ball.
Lukaku didn’t score on his debut and many will inevitably make plenty of that, but he did play well. Whilst he spurned a good chance after having been played in by Pogba, again after LA Galaxy had given the ball away trying to play out from the back, he moved well off the ball and made a number of diversionary runs to create space for Martial and Mkhitaryan pushing on from midfield.
United’s second half goals
United ‘s fourth goal again came from an attacking transition with Mkhitaryan intercepting a loose pass and receiving a return pass from Martial to pass past the keeper. The fifth goal was perhaps United’s most creative moment. Pogba in the deep on the left resisted pressure to get his head up and switch play to the advancing Fosu-Mensah on the right. He ran towards the bye-line before pulling a low pass back across towards Martial who fired home first time. The defence had retreated to follow the run of Lukaku leaving Martial in acres of space.