Manchester United won their final pre-season friendly match, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata scored in a 2-1 victory over Sampdoria in Dublin. Only goal for Italian side scored Dennis Praet.
Jose Mourinho started the match in a 3-5-2 formation, which he used during the pre-season on few other occasions. Daley Blind was a left centre-back, next to Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling. Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian were wing-backs, something the Ecuadorian used very well with his pace.
Midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira and Paul Pogba seemed very solid as Sampdoria had troubles keeping the ball in central areas, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a somewhat free role to roam around Romelu Lukaku, which he used well to a great extent, scoring the opening goal and threatening on few other occasions as well.
Second half brought less open chances, but it also brought two goals. Sampdoria knew how to punish Valencia’s attack-mindedness when United changed to a back four and Mourinho’s players mostly attacked through left side after Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial came on.
It was Juan Mata who scored the winning goal from the edge of the box to seal the win for Manchester United.
Mix Of Strength And Pace
Even with Matic’s arrival to Manchester, Mourinho’s signings in the past year are all higher than 6 foot, but United showed they are not all about the height and physical strength. Mkhitaryan’s goal showed exactly how fast the team can be when positioning of players and ball movement is done properly.
Sampdoria had an indirect free kick at the six yard line after David De Gea managed to save his goal after an imprecise back-pass from Blind. Yet, Manchester players blocked the shot on the goal line and caught opponents on the break, swarming forward in numbers. Darmian was one of the players ending up in Sampdoria’s box just seconds after being in his own, putting a lovely cross for Mkhitaryan to head in.
In second half, Martial and Marcus Rashford showed their usual pace, but more importantly, United moved the ball forwards swiftly on numerous occasions, showing they can offer something else than muscles.
Matic’s Debut Promises
His first Man United practice was on Tuesday, but Matic is right away showing what he could do. His movement in the centre of the park was great at all times, he was giving instructions for team-mates around him and made sure the back three were protected.
More importantly, Matic did not look like a player that has missed Chelsea’s pre-season tour in the United States. He was aggressive when necessary, intercepting passes higher up the pitch than people would usually expect. Matic’s passing was good, laying them off either to Darmian and Pogba on the left or Valencia and Pereira on the right.
It is definitely still early to say more, but Matic’s debut showed he will bring many positive things to United’s game.
Valencia And Mkhitaryan Fit 3-5-2
It is still unknown how often will Mourinho use this formation during the upcoming season, but some players will definitely enjoy it. Valencia is known as an offensive full-back, due to being a winger earlier in his career and attack-mindedness of his will fit this 3-5-2. He showed several times against Sampdoria how dangerous he can be from the flank, taking on defenders and finding his team-mates in the box.
Mkhitaryan was also the player who seemed to enjoy playing in this system. He was classed as Lukaku’s pair in attack, but in reality he had a freer role. He was more of a second striker making intelligent runs around Lukaku, opening spaces and finding opportunities. That resulted in him being in a good position for three headers – one was saved by Christian Puggioni, the other was a near miss and the third was a goal. Not a bad way to end the pre-season.