Manchester United and Barcelona played a friendly match in the context of the 2017 International Champions Cup. Both teams are on the final stage of their preseason campaigns. As such, we could see two teams playing with most of their star players right from the start of the game.
Manchester United started with a positive attitude, but Barcelona did not waste time and quickly began to dominate the game. Los Blaugranas quickly jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first half thanks to Neymar, and ultimately maintained their lead thanks to a composed performance throughout the entire match. Manchester United improved in the second half and created some decent chances towards the end of the game, but ultimately did not do enough to turn things around. Barcelona fully deserved to win the match.
Here are four things we learned during the game:
Daley Blind Might Have A Defined Role Next Season
There has been a lot of talk regarding what is the best role for Daley Blind. The Dutchman can play at right back, centre back, left back, and central midfield. But if the game against Los Blaugranas was of any indication, then we can expect Blind to log several minutes at left back this upcoming season.
Blind struggled a bit when facing the attacking runs of Lionel Messi, but was quite composed the rest of the way. He did not lose duels against Nelson Semedo – one of the fastest players in Europe – and generally looked calmed with the ball on his feet. He represents a considerable change of pace in comparison to Matteo Darmian, and needs to be a bit more accurate on his touches. But he looked decent on a night where the rest of the team was not.
The Rest Of The Defence Did Not Look Very Good In The First Half
As mentioned above, the defensive line did not looked sharp against Barcelona. Blind was not accurate on his touches at times. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelöf had lots of problems against Luis Suarez, and could not close spaces in time against the Uruguayan. And Antonio Valencia was an absolute disaster. The Ecuador international committed several mistakes, and in fact Barcelona’s first goal came out of a ball he lost against Neymar.
David De Gea was the lone bright spot defensively for Manchester United. The Spaniard only played the first half, but made at least three or four quality saves. If anything, his performance confirmed what everybody already knows. The former Atletico Madrid player is a world-class player who can easily win games on his own.
Eric Bailly, Sergio Romero, Phil Jones, and Matteo Darmian entered the game in the second half. And while United looked far better defensively, we must note neither Messi, Suarez or Neymar came to play after the break. This made United’s job easier. But this game showed that The Red Devils need to tighten things up before the start of the season.
Ander Herrera’s Absence Revealed His Importance
As if that was not enough, the defensive midfielders looked overmatched during the first 45 minutes. Michael Carrick did what he could, but he was left all alone in the middle of the pitch. And Paul Pogba did not contribute enough defensively. This led to Barcelona quickly dominating possession and establishing control of the game.
Marouane Fellaini replaced Carrick, and Andreas Pereira made way for of Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the second half. The fresh legs were useful, and United clearly improved after the break. But Barcelona fielded an alternative squad in the second 45 minutes. The team looked overmatched against Barca’s regular starters, and that can’t happen once the season starts.
Ultimately, there is no doubt the team missed Ander Herrera while he was out. But this was the perfect example about why Mourinho wants to sign another midfielder before the end of the transfer window. If the Spaniard is not on the team, then United loses a lot of presence in midfield. And both Carrick and Fellaini might not be good enough to play against top teams anymore.
Who Plays Where On The Attack?
Mourinho played Jesse Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, and Romelu Lukaku upfront. And Anthony Martial replaced Lingard midway into the second half. But the positioning was a bit strange, and it was hard to understand what Mourinho wanted to do.
Lukaku played upfront, but he was not much of a threat and did not have a single scoring chance. Rashford and Lingard constantly switched flanks, but neither generated a big impact into the game. And Mkhitaryan supposedly featured behind Lukaku as an attacking midfielder. We say “supposedly” because he looked lost in midfield. Martial did not fare any better, although the French did not receive a single ball with advantage.
The UEFA Super Cup is less than two weeks away. And while United still have two more friendlies before facing Real Madrid, Mourinho needs to start making decisions sooner than later. Unfortunately, this game against Barcelona left more questions than answers.