Pre-Season Preview

Manchester United

The month of July has rolled in, with the official opening of the transfer window soon to be augmented by the upcoming pre-season fixtures. As is customary for a club of United’s stature, the tour would involve travelling to a varied range of destinations and facing a plethora of opposition, some more high profile than others. Jose Mourinho is the kind of manager who likes the majority of his team’s transfer business wrapped up before embarking on the tour. This season though, they have only completed the signing of Swedish centre-back Victor Lindelof from Benfica. With less than a week to go before the Red Devils jet off to the United States, Mourinho would want the names on his wishlist to be Manchester United players by then. Alvaro Morata and Nemanja Matic seem to be likely additions if the word around the club is to be believed. Yet, to get them on board before the team’s departure on July 8 seems rather implausible.

First up, United square off against LA Galaxy on July 15. The last meeting between these two just was under 3 years ago and saw an attendance of close to 90,000 fans. More memorably, United managed to win at a canter, thrashing the American side 7-0. It was Louis van Gaal’s first match in charge and he could not have hoped for a better initiation. Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, and Reece James all got a brace and ensured an outstanding start to the pre-season. Whether or not the tie turns out to be quite so straight forward this term remains to be seen. Though one thing is for sure, Mourinho would want to start a long tour on a good note and this fixture has all the capabilities of enabling his side to do exactly that.

Next on the agenda, a short trip to Utah in order to face Real Salt Lake. With barely 48 hours between the two fixtures, the Portuguese is sure to ring the changes in this one, both from the previous match as well as during the game. This is the club’s first ever trip to the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy and one can reasonably expect the 20,000 seater arena to be sold out. Just 13 years into its existence, the ‘Royals’ have faced the likes of Real Madrid, Everton, and Inter Milan in the recent years. Undoubtedly though, this match will be one of the biggest occasions in their history and they should be up for the challenge. In all practicality, United should be able to get past them with a relative amount of comfort.

Then comes arguably the biggest game of the tour, the Manchester derby in Houston. This is the first time that the city rivals meet outside of the United Kingdom. Expecting familiar hostility on unfamiliar turf, Mourinho and Guardiola clashing would mean there will not be an inch given. Manchester City are favourites to win the title this upcoming season, and the psychological aspects of this meeting cannot be overstated. With both coaches always on the lookout for an opportunity to outsmart the other, it will be interesting to see the strength of the sides they field, especially the number of new signings on display. Bernardo Silva and Ederson have joined the blue side of Manchester, with both teams expected to add to their squads before this fixture comes around.

The second one in the trio of big games sees the Red Devils play Spanish and European Champions Real Madrid. Having successfully defended their trophy, the Spanish outfit are bound to be in an upbeat mood as they roll into California for this high profile encounter at the Levi’s Stadium. A record breaking 109,000 fans showed up to watch the last meeting of these sides when United won 3-1. The impending transfer of Alvaro Morata, the ongoing saga surrounding James Rodriguez and the seemingly never ending circumstances involving David de Gea and his potential transfer to the Los Blancos should add a lot more spice to this one. Add to that the fact that this is one of Mourinho’s former clubs and the equation rises a notch. The sides meet again in the UEFA Super Cup in August and that should have more riding on it, yet these two giants of the footballing world coming head to head always promises a worthy watch.

Another Spanish heavyweight are on the itinerary as the Red Devils play Barcelona at FedEx Field, Maryland. Winning the previous meeting with the same margin as they did with Real, this is the last of United’s games in the States and they would definitely want to end on a winning note before they head to the European leg of their tour. Again, the fact that there are just 3 days between the last match and this one would mean a string of changes and opportunities for a lot of the younger crop to showcase their skills against arguably the biggest football club in the world. Rumours surrounding United’s admiration and consequent transfer approaches for Neymar have come and gone one time too many. One can certainly expect the Brazilian to be on the Catalan side of things for this game and pretty much the upcoming season, at least.

The Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo provides the setting for the next encounter when United play Valeranga IF. A goalless draw ensued the last time that these sides met exactly five years to the date of this match. If Mourinho decides to factor in all the minutes in the five matches that they would have played thus far and the extra travelling to Europe, he will most certainly give the youngsters a run out for this one. Also, the upcoming UEFA Super Cup tie against Real Madrid in a little over a week might be on his mind, with a meeting with Sampdoria in Dublin sandwiched in between. The assignment against the Italians is the seventh and ultimate game of the preseason, to be played at the Aviva Stadium on August 2. A few first team players might feature in this one considering how close it is to the start of the Premier League season and the fact that he would want to field a reasonably strong team against Real.

The last one before the season officially begins, and quite understandably the most important one. As a result of winning the Europa League, United qualified for this season’s Champions League and will be entitled to face Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup on August 8 in Skopje, Macedonia. The winner in Mourinho would not want to take this fixture lightly. He has to contend with the fact that the League season begins in just 4-5 days on the ensuing weekend. This will make it very interesting in terms of how competitive he decides to be for this match. A good performance and the right result could be a clear statement of intent that United are ready to challenge Europe’s big clubs again. Once the curtain drops on this one, it’s back to the grind with the hosting of West Ham United in the Premier League. A total of 8 fixtures before that should provide a more than decent platform for the Portuguese maverick to mould his plans for the 2017-18 campaign wherein the sights are set on a challenge for the League title and ensuring that the comeback to Europe’s biggest club competition turns out to be more than just a mere formality.