Against a backdrop of negativity after a wretched end to the last campaign, only two new players so far in the close season and their two most expensive signings wanting to leave, Manchester United won a football match.
It was only a pre-season game, one where United changed their entire team at half-time. It was against a weakened and out of season Perth Glory, one of Australia’s best two teams last season, who featured seven regulars but missed their best two forwards.
They also had two 15-year-old players on the pitch at the end of the game, but it was only pre-season a year ago when United were so poor in most of their games in the United States even their manager, Jose Mourinho, said he wouldn’t pay to watch his team.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be judged by results, but he has cut a much more approachable figure on this tour than his predecessor, patiently posing for selfies with United’s vast support in West Australia. His players have completed twice as many training sessions as at the same stage last year.
The Norwegian felt that they weren’t fit enough to play the high pressing style he wanted, which was demonstrated by their humiliating end of the season slump.
Conditions are cool, dry and sunny in Perth where the team are based for nine days – perfect compared to the heat and humidity that will follow in Singapore and Shanghai. The heavy running of the first week has lessened, but fitness is a key for Solskjaer, whose side were often so advanced against Perth that every outfield player was in the opposition half.
Watched by a near sell out crowd of 50,206 for their first visit to West Australia since 1975, United dominated but took an hour to go ahead when Marcus Rashford instinctively knocked home a Paul Pogba flick with a low left-foot shot across goal.
Midfielder, James Garner, 18, made it 2-0 in the 84th minute with a driving low finish. It was his first touch after replacing Luke Shaw who had uttered the word “hamstring” as he left the pitch.
Garner celebrated with fellow young academy graduates Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood. Gomes was exciting on the left of a front three in a 4-2-3-1 system. An issue is that United don’t have a natural number nine bar Romelu Lukaku.
Solskjaer has talented young players to work with, but demands are instant in the Premier League where United start with tough matches at home to Chelsea and away to a Wolves side who beat them twice and outclassed them in a draw last season.
United have five more pre-season games in five countries before then, and new arrivals are expected, but both debutants Dan James and Aaron Wan Bissaka performed in Perth.
James started well. The 21-year-old, wearing 21 and signed from Swansea City, began on the left wing and switched to the right mid-way through the first half. He made diagonal runs, he drove inside and was subjected to two heavy challenges. Each time, he bounced up and brushed himself off.
Central defender Axel Tuanzebe was solid, competitive and aggressive though he committed two over-eager fouls that would have received a booking in the Premier League. United still have to decide whether he will stay or go on loan this season.
Perth has another chance to see United on Wednesday for a game against Leeds United which will have a bigger crowd.
Solskjaer still has multiple issues to deal with. One of his coaches, Mark Dempsey – who collapsed on the tour – will be discharged from hospital following his assessment and treatment, and return to Manchester.
The Norwegian manager was satisfied with how his team played against their well organised opponents, who played 3-5-2 in possession and 5-3-2 when defending. He was pleased with the debuts of James and Bissaka, who made three good tackles in 45 minutes.
Solskjaer was guarded in his post match comments when asked about player movements, saying he was “optimistic” about new signings. He also said he was considering Pogba, who looked better than any other player on the pitch, to be his captain.
However, when asked whether Lukaku had told him he wanted to leave, Solskjaer said: “My private conversations will remain private. That’s my privilege.”
Asked what he thought would be a success this season for United, he replied: “A trophy.” Fans wouldn’t disagree, but first his team need to start walking again before they properly begin to run.
Updated: July 13, 2019 09:15 PM