Lingard, Passing and Pereira: 3 Key Things From Man Utd’s win over RSL

Pereira

Manchester United’s 2-1 friendly win over Real Salt Lake was an eventful one. RSL made a raft of changes 30 minutes in, something which allowed United to get the ascendancy. Then, early in the second half, Antonio Valencia received a red card for a ludicrous challenge, especially given the game was only a friendly. Despite those incidents, though, the game had an interesting flow to it, with both sides enjoying periods of dominance.

Here are 3 key things from the contest:

1. Utd’s possession game

Utd started in a 4-3-3 formation. The midfield consisted of captain Michael Carrick, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. Carrick played at the base of that central trio, with the other two then given the freedom to drive forward. Ahead of the midfield unit, Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan populated the flanks, while Romelu Lukaku took up the centre-forward station.

This made for an interesting approach in attack, with both Lingard and Mkhitaryan almost always floating infield in order to link up through the middle. There was obvious potential to this strategy, as it meant that Utd could overload the opposition through the centre of the field. Then, of course, there was also the prospect of using the fullbacks,

Timothy Fosu-Mensah on the right and Daley Blind on the left, to add a bit of width to the equation.
The problem, however, was that the fullbacks didn’t offer too much going forward. This meant Utd’s build-up play often became a little too congested and a little too narrow. There wasn’t really a lot of variation to their football, and aside from the odd moment when Pogba would pull to the left, it took them some time to realise that the fullbacks needed to give a bit more to the team going forward.

That created the odd moment of panic in possession, because RSL knew that if they packed the centre they could succeed in defence. At one point, Carrick found himself in the middle of the pitch. He had no immediate options in the front of him, as they were closed up by the centrally-located RSL defence, and he turned it over as a consequence of hanging onto the ball too long. That led to a quickfire counter-attack, and though the result was only a deflected Joao Plata shot from the edge of the area, it highlighted the fact that United were lacking unpredictability on the ball.

This pattern presented itself throughout the course of the opening 30 minutes, but one man still managed to star for Utd in the possession game.

2. Jesse Lingard

Lingard is an interesting footballer. He’s athletic and dynamic in the way he can charge into the area, but he’s also very tidy on the ball. He passes well and has an appetite for combining with teammates in tight spaces, things which enables him to have an impact when floating infield from the flank. This was important for the Red Devils, as in contrast to an otherwise flat first-half performance from the club, Lingard offered plenty of spark.

He moved infield sharply and, instead of just taking up positions and waiting for the ball, played with real intent. He darted around with his signature mix of acceleration and pace, and when he received the ball in between the lines, he would immediately try and move it on. Lingard would then take that as his cue to provide yet another option, but if the wasn’t used it didn’t matter. His aim was to provide an outlet in the final third, and through clever movement and slick distribution, he did just that.

His most obvious contribution, of course, came in the lead-up to Utd’s leveller. They were 1-0 down when Lingard took possession of the ball about 35 yards out. He then played a sharp sideways ball to Fosu-Mensah, who was now slightly more advanced, before getting it back from the young defender. Lingard then played a quick forward pass to Lukaku, and followed up by driving forward. Lukaku returned the favour with a short ball of his own and then, with a first-time vertical pass, Lingard teed up Mkhitaryan. The Armenian attacker finished the job with a placed finish from the edge of the box, but it’s important to point out Lingard’s impact.

He played 3 passes in the lead-up to the opportunity, including the assist itself, and even though he doesn’t necessarily have the star quality associated with some of his teammates, he produced a fine display against RSL.

3. Andreas Pereira

Pereira has been around for a while, and by now, most Utd fans probably associate him with the band of attacking midfield positions. Here, however, he was used as a deep-lying playmaker. At half-time, he came on in place of Carrick, and it must be said that he didn’t look even remotely out of place.

He did a good job of weaving into space in order to receive the ball, something that probably wasn’t too hard for him given that he’s used to trying to find pockets in more advanced locations, and he used the ball crisply. His short passing game was impressive, as he assisted Utd in progressing the ball by linking up in tight, and he showed an ability to ping more vertical balls as well.

A particularly impressive example of this arrived when he picked up possession in a left-of-centre location, which was a common position for him to take up because it allowed him to use the space vacated by Utd’s left-backs. He then picked out Anthony Martial with a ball that slid in between two defenders, and although its precision was such that it allowed the Frenchman to burst in behind and shoot, the move didn’t lead to a score.

Add Pereira’s set-piece proficiency to the mix, as well as his ability to swing balls into the box, and he’s an intriguing prospect for Utd. In the wake of one set-piece, he set up a chance for Chris Smalling to nod home from close range. The centre-back somehow managed to fire wide of the mark, but it was nonetheless another example of Pereira’s capabilities.

The question, of course, is whether he can break through to the first-team, especially given how heavily Utd tend to spend, but his integration into the pre-season at least demonstrates that Mourinho likes him as a player. Who knows, maybe that will eventually to propel him to some game time.