Pre-season friendlies are, as the name more or less blatantly suggests, only that – non competitive games during which teams market their brand to the four corners of the globe, unveil their new kits, sweat their socks off in countries whose humidity resembles that of a Turkish bath and, occasionally, play some football.
To judge a side based on their pre-season performances is like to judge a whole album based on its first single, a rather short-sighted and premature exercise, but one many seems to revel in.
United might still be stuck on just one win on this pre-season tour, but today’s outing in Japan against Cerezo Osaka provided plenty to be optimistic about, and not just for the trademark late goal with which Wilfried Zaha rescued a draw for the Reds, the first of hopefully many goals in “Moyesey time”.
For a start, United should consider themselves lucky to have been put another decent test, for pre-season games resembling a training session defy their purpose, and Cerezo Osaka certainly gave United plenty to worry about throughout the 90 minutes, going in front twice before goals from local hero Shinji Kagawa and Zaha pegged them back.
The Japanese playmaker was the undiscussed main event of the night in Osaka and did not disappoint fans in his homeland, as he shined in the position in which he had impressed at Dortmund, combining superbly with Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck and displaying the sort of exquisite touches – his backheel flick to set up Ryan Giggs in the first half was a sight to behold – United fans have been desperate to see.
To his credit, David Moyes seems to have already grasped that the Japanese is at his most effective when deployed behind the main striker, rather than wide on the left, undoubtedly much to Jurgen Klopp’s relief, given the Dortmund manager famously claimed that seeing Kagawa isolated on the flank brought tears to his eyes.
With Phil Jones and Robin Van Persie the only survivors from the starting line-up against Yokohama F-Marinos, United made a bright start and could have been ahead in less than 60 seconds, but RVP saw his shot ending straight into the keeper’s arms after an excellent through ball and, ten minutes later, the Dutchman was again denied as he tried to chip Kim after some neat link-up play between Ashley Young and Kagawa.
At the other Lindegaard had his work cut out too as he produced two excellent saves to deny Kusukami and then Yokoyama, before Jones’ diving header flew over the bar after RVP and Kagawa had orchestrated a brilliant move, before Chris Smalling made a complete mess of what had looked to be a straightforward clearance allowing Kenyu Sugimoto to slot home Osaka’s opener.
Kagawa comically fluffed his lines in front of goal as Van Persie’s unselfishly set the Japanese up after Welbeck – whose qualities are still widely unappreciated by many Reds – had rattled the post, then it was the England international’s turn to come inches close to an equaliser as his shot fizzled wide of the post on the stroke of half-time.
Anderson replaced Jones at half-time and, soon after the restart, Ashley Young confirmed that his preparation ahead of next season is reaching perfection as he won a penalty with a trademark dive, after falling in the box at the merest hint of contact. Young’s penchant for going down theatrically would be funny if he played for another club, but at United they’re only source of embarrassment.
Kagawa had his penalty saved but reprieved himself immediately by slotting home an excellent pass from Ryan Giggs, before Takumi Minamino restored Osaka’s lead with a thunderbolt from 20 yards that left Lindegaard no chance.
Janzuzaj, Lingard, Cleverley, Fabio and Evra all emerged from the customary flurry of substitutions and the former two combined well to set up Zaha for the simplest of tap-ins, his first goal in a United shirt.
A late goal and some good football, plenty of reason not to believe the doom merchants as yet.
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