Manchester United will play Spanish and European champions Barcelona in front of a sell-out 68,000 crowd in Santa Clara, California, on Saturday night (9.00pm). The Catalans may have a better team, but there were more United fans among the 109,000 who watched them against Real Madrid in the US a year ago. Once again there is likely to be more red than Barça’s new horizontal stripes inside the stadium where NFL’s San Francisco 49-ers usually play home games.
‘The tour is going well,’ said Juan Mata after Tuesday’s 3-1 win MLS side San Jose Earthquakes, in which the Spaniard scored. ‘Two games, two wins. This tour is made for the American fans, but also for us to get fitter and to try to face the first game of the season against Tottenham ready.’ Speak to any of the travelling United party and you’ll get similar responses. New players are settling in and as Mata explains, ‘They’re integrating well, they all have different personalities and come from different backgrounds, but they come with a good, positive mind-set.’
- Does LVG have a title-winning squad? Get the latest football odds at PaddyPower.com: Desktop | Mobile
Luke Shaw looks slimmer and fitter after a summer working out on holiday, while his mate Adnan Januzaj has filled out for the better. The news signings are settling in fine and Morgan Schneiderlin scored on his debut.
‘Morgan’s one of the best Premier League midfielders,’ said Luke Shaw. ‘He’s got everything. He’s a good passer, tackler and can get box-to-box. It’s looking very competitive in United’s midfield and the competition will be good, but I know him and have faith in him that he’s good enough to play well at Man United and improve.’
There are no serious injuries and further additions are expected to an already formidable squad. David de Gea continues to do the job he’s paid to do, ditto Jonny Evans, though it would surprise no-one if neither were at the club on September 1.
Ticket sales and exposure have been healthy too, while Louis van Gaal has exerted his control and has his team staying close to where they train and play. There are gripes, such as a lack of open training sessions from US fans, and that doesn’t look great when Barça have open sessions, but that’s how Van Gaal wants it as he builds what he hopes will be a title-winning team.
There’s less commercial work for his players (instead United’s army of former players working as ambassadors are used to meet a wine company in a local Costco or with some of United’s biggest partners), less travelling and have been no repeats of the two hours drive to a training session in Pasadena last year.
When Van Gaal discovered that one of the games on this tour was scheduled to be played in Berkeley – just over an hour away in good traffic – he insisted that the match be shifted to a venue closer to the team hotel, even though it meant a reported 40,000 tickets being refunded as the new stadium was smaller.
In years gone by, players would be free to go out and socialise on tours. Not now – not that downtown San Jose is a hub of entertainment. Which is exactly how Van Gaal likes it.
Though Barça are missing their Copa America stars, their game against United will be a tough test for the Red Devils, but while it’s difficult to read too much into pre-season form, Van Gaal has used a 4-2-3-1 system in both games so far. Wayne Rooney, his captain who is consistently the hardest trainer and who has gone out of his way to make Bastian Schweinsteiger feel welcome at his new club, is playing in his preferred role as a lead striker.
United are looking at bringing in other attacking options including Barça’s Pedro, who could play against them in Santa Clara. PSG still want Angel di Maria and with over a month remaining in the transfer window the speculation isn’t going to dampen down for a while.
But for now, United have the small matter of playing games and getting fit so that, unlike last term, they can get a winning start to the season.