Thing number 1: The Offense
Wayne Rooney is obviously relishing his relocation back to his natural position as striker. Despite some sterling performances and valiant attempts at being a holding player, Rooney never really looked comfortable playing behind the United front line. The addition of Memphis means that Manchester United now has an attack that goes straight up the middle, piercing the heart of opposing defenses.
In the postgame press conference Louis Van Gaal admitted that he was pleased by the growing interplay between Rooney and Memphis but added the proviso that perhaps the two players saw the ball a little too often, and he would prefer a more balanced attack that made use of a wider game.
However, given the return of Ashley Young as a dynamic, slippery-as-an-eel deliverer of the ball into the area from the left flank, coupled with the impressive way newly signed Italian defender Matteo Darmian took the ball forward down the right flank, Van Gaal’s desire for a balanced attack across the width of the field looks close to being fulfilled.
Talking of balance, I asked Louis Van Gaal in the post game press conference how confident he felt his second string players would fill the inevitable injury and suspension gaps in the upcoming EPL season.
"The balance of the team is the most important thing. Last year we won against the Champions League winner, it was Real [Madrid] at that time. Now we win against Barcelona so it is possible, but we also had a bit of luck. Three balls hit the post but I was pleased with our performance. Also in the second half, when the youngsters came in, you saw a spirit. We had the same amount of chances as Barcelona and that I like the most today."
Thing number 2: The Midfield
Manchester United’s midfield in this game was controlled and ruled by sure-footed Michael Carrick and the inventive genius of Juan Mata. Percentage of possession, something that Barcelona seems to value above all else, ultimately means nothing if all you do with that possession is, well, possess the ball.
Carrick and Mata used midfield possession and supply to provide breathing space for their defense as well as providing delivery forward to the strikers.
The second half team of youngsters showed that they had all thee of these areas more than adequately covered. Tyler Blackett in defense, Ander Herrera in midfield and Adnan Januzaj, who scored one of the two second half goals, and James Wilson in attack all showed that come the call they are well versed in Louis Van Gaal’s methodology.
Thing number 3: The Defense
The one shining, constant element in Manchester United’s defense last year was goalkeeper David De Gea. Time and again De Gea kept the score sheet in United’s favor and he was a major factor in the club finishing 4th and qualifying for UEFA Champions League.
De Gea was rested for United’s games against Club America and the San Jose Earthquakes giving rookie goalkeeper Sam Johnstone a couple of good run outs. Van Gaal obviously decided De Gea was healthy enough, as well as necessary enough, to face Barcelona. De Gea did not disappoint, pulling off some superb acrobatic saves and showing flawless positioning in his goal.
On the basis of this performance alone United must surely be hopeful that the Spanish keeper will spend another year braving the rain of Manchester.
The first half battle between United defender Phil Jones and Luis Suarez was a joy to behold. It was a good old-fashioned tussle that, despite Suarez’s mounting frustration and a few clumsy tackles from Jones, one of which resulted in a yellow card, managed to stay just this side of getting niggly. Jones stuck so closely to Suarez it was surprising he didn’t have a numer 9 on his shirt at the end of the first half.
After the game, I asked Michael Carrick if the philosophy at United was any different this year than last year. He looked thoughtful a moment and said,
"Not really, no."
"Manchester United is Manchester United? " I prompted.
Carrick smiled, then his eyes hardened,
"Yes. Just win." he said.
And off he went, in all likelihood, to do just that
Manchester United-3 Barcelona-1
July 25, 2015 Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California. Attendance: 68,416