Conclusions from United v Inter
Drawing meaningful conclusions from preseason friendlies can be tricky, verging on pointless, but hey, there’s still eleven days until the real stuff starts, so let’s give it a try anyway.
1) On that showing there’s little doubt in my mind that our fitness will be up to speed come the Swansea game. We played with a high press through most of the first half and went flying into pretty much every challenge — if this had been a league match, I think there would have been three or four yellow cards apiece. The intensity of our play and pressure was excellent, and if anything I was hoping we’d ease off a bit earlier than we did…
2) If you’re the kind of person to read something from friendly results (I can’t say I am), then a 1–1 draw with a strong Inter team is encouraging. Sure, they were missing their World Cup players, plus stars like Radja Nainggolan. And sure, they’re a few weeks behind us in terms of preseason preparation (their season kicks off August 19th). But this was still close to their first team, including the brilliant Mauro Icardi who’s scored 100 goals in just 159 Serie A games.
And while there were flashes of brilliance from him, Kwadwo Asamoah and Lautaro Martinez (what a pass to create the equaliser, by the way), United matched Inter well and restricted them to very few chances. Even if Icardi’s backheel for a teammate when in on goal felt rather charitable.
3) With no sign that Coutts will be ready to play any time soon, I’m pretty sure last night’s midfield three of Lundstram, Evans and Fleck will be the one to start against Swansea. I quite like this trio and they were excellent together in the Cardiff home game last season, even if the first two are still far from the finished article. But structurally I can see the logic: Evans plays a deeper, risk-free role, Lundstram can get up and down as the situation requires, and Fleck is released to play further up the pitch.
4) Speaking of Fleck… that performance last night was in keeping with how he played in the second half of last season. That is to say, extremely good. He really has become an all-action midfielder: carrying the ball forward, moving it on, making tackles. Last night he threw in a lovely run and assist for McGoldrick, and fizzed a dipping volley just wide from 25 yards. Some fans will want Duffy to start over Evans or Lundstram but if those two are deployed with the primary goal of freeing up Fleck to play a more attacking role, then that’s fine by me.
5) The early signs are promising for McGoldrick, who by most accounts (this is the first time I’ve seen him play for us) has been good in all three preseason appearances so far. His touch and link-up play were strong, particularly the backheel on the byline that almost created a chance for Clarke. His goal was superbly-taken, as he had to twist his body for Fleck’s pass which was actually played behind him. The finish was very classy.
6) While we absolutely need another striker — hence the pursuit of Martyn Waghorn, even if it looks like we’ll be priced out of it — McGoldrick is smart business. Yes, he has a history of injury problems. Yes, he turns 31 later this year. Yes, he’s only hit double-figures for league goals three times in his career. No, he probably won’t single-handedly fire us to promotion.
But he is a good player — even grumpy Ipswich fans acknowledge that. He cost us nothing. And the deal is structured in a way that incentivises him to do well (1 year, with an option for a second) but is also based around him playing a certain number of games. Basically, this is a low-risk signing with a potentially high upside, filling a squad role vacated by Clayton Donaldson’s departure (and if he avoids injuries, McGoldrick will be much more valuable than Donaldson). Go get that extension, David.
7) I mentioned earlier that I don’t want to read too much into a friendly, and the standard of opposition is higher than we’ll likely face every week, even at 75% pace. But watching United last night did reiterate that we are, as it stands, much the same team as last season… for better or worse.
John Egan should address one of our major areas of need, which was a weakness in the air (look at some of the goals we conceded against Cardiff, Millwall, and Barnsley for example). Dean Henderson was flawless last night and his distribution looks very encouraging, based on 45 minutes. But attacking-wise, we still have the same issues that hurt us last season, through a lack of goals from other areas of the team (apart from Fleck, very few of our non-strikers got into attacking positions), and a general lack of pace or dynamism in all areas.
This is not news, of course — it’s the things we’ve been talking about for roughly six months. But with only two outfield players signed so far — one of which, McGoldrick, is likely a rotation player rather than a guaranteed starter — those problems still exist.
And we still do plenty of things well. Every single player from keeper to Clarke is comfortable on the ball and wants to get on it and play. The wingbacks get forward at every opportunity. Centre-backs look to play into feet rather than hitting long. Last night reminded me just how good we are to watch — but also that we may still struggle to create many chances when the season gets underway.
8) It’s worth pointing out that, as much as I’d like us to sign Waghorn, he wouldn’t necessarily solve our pace/creativity problems either. And there is still a week and a half before the season, and 2 weeks until the transfer deadline. And the loan window stays open until the end of August, and Wilder has already stated that he expects clubs to use this in slightly devious ways — namely loaning a player with the understanding that you’ll buy him in January, to get round the earlier deadline on permanent deals. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage if we haven’t got the players he wants by August 9th.