Manchester United provided a glimpse at the potential starting lineup for next week’s Premier League opener during a 1-0 friendly loss against Spanish side Atletico Madrid in a match played in Norway.
New manager Erik ten Hag has one final preseason test for his players scheduled for Sunday at Old Trafford before the start of the competitive league schedule against Brighton a week later, also at Old Trafford. Another Spanish side, Rayo Vallecano, will be the opponent to close out preseason on July 31, and Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to see his first minutes in that match.A late goal three minutes from time by Joao Felix decided the contest in Oslo, though it was a harsh result for a positive United side that created a handful of looks. Man United ‘keeper David De Gea, who was not troubled for most of the match, couldn’t stop the Felix blast, screened by his teammate who was covering on the play.
New United signing Lisandro Martinez did not see any minutes, but Christian Eriksen came off the bench to make his Manchester United debut after playing in a closed-door scrimmage against Wrexham earlier in the week. His quality was immediately evident as he helped create two chances in a matter of minutes after coming on. Jadon Sancho sat out the match after falling ill overnight.
Man United applied themselves throughout the match, working hard to win the ball back, and they didn’t back down from Atletico Madrid’s physical play. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga had attempts on goal, Harry Maguire was dangerous on a couple of corner kicks, and Facundo Pellistri even had a late look at goal that was blocked. The one negative for United was the straight red card shown to Fred for a stomp on Alvaro Morata in the final minute and the potential for a suspension against Brighton.
Ten Hag pushed his players for more minutes in this match and he made just four subs, with the first ones only coming on at the 70th minute mark. Atletico introduced 10 fresh players at the 60th-minute mark and that group included the matchwinner, Felix.”It was a tough game, tough opposition,” Anthony Elanga told MUTV after the match. “Unfortunate to lose the game, but I feel like during this preseason we’ve worked really hard and gotten into the way the manger wants us to play.”
Should Christian Eriksen start vs. Brighton?
The most interesting conversation around the starting lineup against Brighton will probably center around Eriksen and whether he should be there from the opening whistle given the impact his substitute appearance had on the Atletico Madrid match. The clarity of thought and his vision and ideas clearly boosted the United attack.
The Dane was part of a double No. 8 central midfield pairing with Donny van de Beek, both playing in front of Fred, who played deeper at holding midfielder. Eriksen floated mainly into the left channel and his pinpoint deliveries led to header chances by both Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire (on a corner kick). The injection he can give the club off the bench could make him more valuable off the bench to help spark the team if things don’t go well against Brighton.
Do Man United need Ronaldo after all?
Manchester United struggled to generate enough clear-cut opportunities against a solid defensive side like Atletico, and when they did, the players didn’t quite have the finishing touch. Anthony Martial had some early looks but he couldn’t get his feet right or a shot on target, and Rashford and Elanga were not lucid enough in the box on their attempts with heavy legs likely still a factor.
Bruno Fernandes had a tidy match, with a couple of flashes, but Man United need him to be more than that and to be a difference-maker with his passing, dribbling, and shooting. That didn’t happen against Atletico Madrid and it wasn’t necessarily because of anything that Atletico Madrid were doing to stop him. Fernandes needed to grab control of the game and demand the ball, but that didn’t occur in this final preseason match. Supporters will be hoping he’s saving himself for the real thing next Sunday.
Harry Maguire career revival under Ten Hag
Maguire looks like a different player under Ten Hag and the move to right central defender (he typically played at left center-back last season) has no doubt suited him. The decision to hand him the captain’s armband could have only helped.
The newfound confidence was evident in the way he played the position against Atletico Madrid, making two key defensive plays in his own box and showing the timing and presence that he was known for before last season’s nightmare.
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