MANCHESTER UNITED vs REAL MADRID
United traveled on to Santa Clara and the home of the San Francisco 49ers for a game against the back-to-back European Champions. This was expected to be an altogether tougher match than any to date even if Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t going to be involved against his old side.
Jose Mourinho chose to use a 4-3-3 shape to start this game. Carrick anchored the midfield with Anreas Pereira further forward to the right and Fellaini to the left. Rashford occupied the central forward position with Lingard to the right and Martial to the left. Real Madrid fielded a strong line up also set up in a 4-3-3 shape. Their midfield three were Kroos in the deep with Modric and Isco in advanced areas.
United’s first half shape and Martial who had a excellent first half
Space at a Premium
Of the two sides United who seemed to have the initiative from the start. They had a good team shape and moved the ball quickly and well. Their play though tended to be all in front of Madrid who dropped back into a rough 4-4-1-1 when United enjoyed any period of possession. They left Benzema up front with Bale in behind.
Space was at a premium in the early stages with neither team being able to find any in attacking areas. Both teams pressed their opponent with United particularly successful in closing people down early in high areas. When they won possession they then proved themselves very capable of keeping the ball despite Madrid’s pressing efforts even if they didn’t create that much.
In attack Rashford as the central player had a difficult half. He was marshalled by Varane who had enough pace to cope. The consequence of this and the Madrid players defensive positioning meant that Rashford was not in the game for long periods. Lingard and Martial in the wide areas faired far better. They were quite fluid in their movement and positioning with Lingard in particular often coming inside into the centre of the pitch forming a diamond with the rest of the midfield. This resulted in a number of moves through the spine of the team, two of which saw Lingard shoot from range as he ran at the Madrid defence.
Martial on the other side tended to stay wider but he too offered attacking thrust with direct forceful running. He would drop deep to receive the ball before turning to move forward with the ball. This asked questions of Madrid’s fullbacks. Carvajal on the Madrid right was occupied by Martial but Lingard’s movement inside often left Marcelo with space to move into something he began to exploit as the half wore on. Despite all this Madrid retained good defensive coverage and as a consequence United didn’t create any significant chances.
Madrid’s attacking efforts were more varied in approach although they were characterised by their moving the ball forward via take-ons after a brief interchange in midfield. Modric was particularly prominent in Madrid’s efforts. He was popping up everywhere and proved a real challenge for Fellaini.
United scored on the stroke of halftime after a breath-taking run by Martial. Fellaini had almost lost the ball in the inside left area near the half way line but managed to poke it wide to Martial on the touchline. As previously described he set off on one of his forceful runs down the touchline towards the corner flag before cutting inside near the byeline. He used pace and close control to beat at least three players turning Carvajal inside and out before looking up and playing a slide rule pass across the six-yard box into the feet of Lingard who had come in from the other side of the pitch.
This was a great piece of skill by Martial but what was most pleasing about it was there was an end product. This has often been a rarity from United over the last few years but here the thrust provided by the pace and skill of a player resulted in combination with a teammate to have a significant effect.
Half Time Changes
As has become par for the course on this tour United made a significant number of half time changes; nine in total. Only Darmian, (who switched sides to right back), Fellaini, (who switched from left to right midfield) and Martial remained. This meant United now featured Herrera as the holding midfield player with Pogba further forward to the left and Lukaku as the central striker, Mkhitaryan was introduced on the right. United were forced to make a further change after a 50th minute foul on Herrera with the United man being replaced by McTominay a couple of minutes later. This changed United’s shape slightly with both Pogba and Fellaini sitting fairly deep in the midfield and McTominay effectively operating as a number 10. What this had done was to turn United’s midfield triangle around with two at the base and one further forward. Did this make United more passive in the second half?
United’s shape at the start of the second half, before and after the injury to Herrera
Madrid changed their whole line-up at half time playing a very young side packed with graduates from their youth development programme. They may be relatively inexperienced but they were obviously very keen to take their chance and seemed much sharper than United throughout the second half. This might also have been as a consequence of United being too passive after their re-organisation.
Madrid certainly benefitted from United’s needing to reorganise but they had also shrewdly introduced the experience of Casemiro at the base of their midfield at half time and his presence ensured that their young side did not lose shape in defence or direction in their attacking play. United weren’t overrun it was just that Madrid looked sharper and were clearly the team that now had the initiative.
Perhaps it was inevitable that United would concede in this situation but the manner of the goal was disappointing. With United now too passive and Madrid more proactive in pursuing the game it was noticeable throughout the second half that United regularly appeared vulnerable at free-kicks, especially if taken quickly.
The equaliser came after a foul on Theo Hernandez by Mkhitaryan on the Madrid left/United right. Real took the free kick quickly before United had faced up in their defensive shape. The ball was fed-back to Hernandez who ran into the space on the right side of United’s penalty area. Lindelof rushed across, was late and upended him. Casemiro stepped up to fire home.
At the drinks break on 75 minutes Valencia replaced Darmian at right back but by this point the game was fizzling out. Late in the game United did change strategy with Fellaini pushing forward alongside Lukaku and McTominay dropping deeper. United were now effectively a 4-4-2 and sought to deliver crosses towards the two front men. This was relatively ineffective making penalties, (required because of the format of the International Champions Cup) inevitable.
The least said about the penalty shootout the better with United winning 2-1 after both sides had taken five penalties. United’s two penalty scorers were Mkhitaryan and Blind in what was probably one of the worst exhibitions of penalty taking in recent years.