Manchester United’s Australian tour has gotten off to a bright start, with the Premier League giants playing out an entertaining preseason friendly against Melbourne Victory.
While the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo due to personal reasons dominated headlines coming into the fixture, the game lived up to the hype. Both sides putting in encouraging showings in front of a large crowd at the MCG.
In United’s first time in Melbourne since 1999, fans flocked to see the Red Devils in action with 74,157 people in attendance for the clash. And while the fans may not have gotten to see Ronaldo, the United squad certainly didn’t lack big names with boss Erik Ten Hag fielding a relatively strong side.
England internationals Harry Maguire, Jadon Sancho and Luke Shaw were all part of the starting line-up with regular fixtures Bruno Fernandes, Fred and Scott McTominay also making notable contributions for the Red Devils.
Attacking duo Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were also impressive and look poised to redeem themselves after disappointing campaigns last season.
Meanwhile for the Victory, their performance caps off another gallant showcase from Australian footballing outfits against European clubs. This follows the A-Leagues All-Stars’ competitive showing against Barcelona in May and Brisbane Roar’s performance over Leeds on Thursday.
They stunned United inside the opening five minutes, with Christopher Ikonomidis scoring from the centre of the box, finishing off clever work by Ben Folami, who found space and made a clever run to set up the opener.
Though after a promising opening 20 minutes from the Victory, they’d be on the back foot for the rest of the half with the visitors eventually finding their groove. And while Paul Izzo and the Victory’s defence did their best to keep United at bay, there was no stopping the two goals they’d concede nearing half time.
McTominay equalised from range with his shot taking a wicked deflection in the 43rd minute and flying past Izzo.
Martial would find the net minutes later with one of the last kicks of the half. It’d be one of the best passages of play on the night, Diego Dalot finding space on the right wing, crossing it to Anthony Elanga in the centre of the box who’d play it in for Martial, who find the bottom left corner from six yards out.
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In the second half United would keep the momentum going with Ten Hag opting for fresh legs and making several changes for the second half.
Several members of United’s young brigade would get a run, with 19-year-old Zidane Iqbal in particular shining in his cameo appearance. Dazzling with his skills, he pushed his case for more first team minutes in the upcoming 2022-23 season.
England international Rashford was subbed into the game in the second half, scoring United’s third goal in the 78th minute to seal the game for the United. Played in cleverly by defender Eric Bailey, Rashford would find himself in space one one one with Izzo, tucking it away to double United’s advantage.
Coming on late, young defender Edmond Lupancu conceded an unlucky own goal to make it four goals for the hosts. Running out 4-1 victors it was a perfect result for the thousands of United fans who came out to watch.
With United coming off a 4-0 win against Liverpool in Thailand earlier in the week, the club’s preseason has gotten off to the perfect start. And with the side set to take on fellow EPL outfit Crystal Palace back at the MCG on Tuesday, they’d be hopeful they can put on another show for the Australian United faithful.
Speaking post-game, United boss Ten Hag was pleased with side’s performance, having come from a goal down to record a comprehensive victory.
“It was clear [we played] a really compact opponent who started really back waiting for us [to attack] and it was difficult for us to create chances,” Ten Hag said.
“Also you get [a goal] down in the first minute, something [is] wrong, but I think the team reacted really good and especially on the right side we created a lot.
“We created three or four really good chances before half time and we get our reward with a turnaround.”
With the Victory opting to sit back and player counterattacking football, Ten Hag said United were made to hard to break them down.
“I would say [playing] against an opponent who are also coming forward it is more easy, the spaces are bigger,” he said.
“But when opponents are that back, you have to create, you have to invest more in running, more ball control and especially your decisions, you need intelligence and smartness to create something.”
Though on the losing end on the night, the Victory would come out of the game with plenty of positives too.
Marquee signing Nani would come on to much fanfare, getting one of the loudest reactions of the night as he approached the pitch in the closing minutes of the game. The former United winger also getting plenty of appreciation his former club’s supporter base.
And after an underwhelming 2021-22 season with the Victory, hampered by injury and poor form, Ikonomidis was impressive and amongst one of the top performers for his side.
Meanwhile Folami was threatening in attack, and Jay Barnett having struggled to assert himself into the first team looks to have found a new role as a full-back.
And though the stats and score line was well in United’s favour, the Victory put in a gallant showing who returned from the offseason just two weeks ago. Their performance continuing a positive trend in which the Australian talent are holding their own against some of the world’s best.
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