Manchester United’s entourage, consisting of more than 120 people, has returned to England after a hectic pre-season tour in Asia and Australia.
United endured a promising yet relatively disappointing campaign in the humid weather and rising temperature, winning only two of their five matches and losing both the ties in Japan.
Thus, here are some things we learned from the nearly three-week long tour.
The Need for New Midfielders
United started two games without Michael Carrick in Asia and lost both of them.
Even in the England international’s presence, United lacked a “shuttler” to connect the defence with the attack and do the “donkey work” of pressing and tackling in midfield.
This forced Moyes to utilize Carrick as the hub of his experimental high-pressing approach, owing to that the 31-year-old is statistically the best ball-winner at Old Trafford.
Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Phil Jones can neither provide the penetrative passes in between the lines nor break up the opposition’s play like Carrick.
So, it’s safe to say United need to recruit new operators in midfield.
First, they need a player to provide competition to Carrick for the holding midfield role. Someone who can pass the ball around well, sit back and favourably be even more creative than Carrick.
Second, United need a box-to-box midfielder to chain the two ends of the field and instead of Carrick, do the prime pressing work so that the former Tottenham Hotspur star can concentrate on closing down the space ahead of the defence.
This is because when Carrick moved up to press in several games, no one was there to nullify the space in between the lines.
Cesc Fabregas is likely to be subject of a third bid by United, but the club will do better by spending such a ludicrous amount on a defensive-minded midfielder instead as both Fabregas and Carrick can’t play together.
Wilfried Zaha- Future No 7?
The 20-year-old’s raw pace, ability to directly run and beat his marker and continually pop crosses and passes into the box make him the ideal man to provide creativity from the flanks for United.
Frankly, whenever Zaha was on the pitch during the pre-season, United’s game plan was simple- pass the ball out wide to the Englishman, who in turn, would torment his full-back before playing the ball into the box for his teammates.
Zaha also managed to open his scoring account for the Red Devils, netting the late equalizer against Cerezo Osaka.
The former Crystal Palace youngster’s physical prowess and ever-improving technical skills will allow him to flourish in the Premier League and his teammate Rio Ferdinand believes the lad surely possesses the required ingredients to flourish at the Theatre of Dreams.
‘Wilfried is a fantastic talent. That is why you pay £15million for a kid,’ said Ferdinand.
‘He is raw, with great individual skills and the early indications are that he is a hard worker.
‘He wants to be a top footballer and he wants to improve. With those attributes, that desire and the influences he will have at this club, hopefully we will have a top player on our hands.’
Jesse Lingard and Adnan Januzaj
Jesse Lingard ended the tour as United’s highest goal-scorer with four strikes chalked up along his name.
The 20-yaer-old mostly played as an inside winger, drifting centrally to combine with other attackers or make runs behind the defence.
He can dribble well, is pacey and comfortable while running with the ball. Lingard’s link-up play is also admirable, while his shooting skills are lethal and were highlighted in games against A-League All Stars and Kitchee.
Adnan Januzaj, on the other hand, is a modern day No. 10.
He is blessed with a wide range of vision, picks out teammates with relative ease and doesn’t struggle much in congested spaces. He likes running at the defenders, while his ball control, first touch and decision making are all well furnished, albeit not good enough for the Premier League yet as the 18-year-old stutters when pressed.
Januzaj has mastered the art of finding pockets of space all over the pitch and likes moving from flank to flank.
The Belgian capped off the tour with a headed strike against Kitchee and looks set for some valuable game time under Moyes.
Despite scoring 14 goals, United conceded nine times in their five pre-season games.
Without Carrick, the midfield couldn’t shield the back-four, with United giving away five goals when the veteran was sidelined.
There is still a lack of communication between the defenders, with the goal conceded against A-League All Stars testimony to this claim. But that’s acceptable considering Moyes utilized a variety of defensive partnerships throughout the tour.
But from now till the start of the season, United only play two more games so Moyes needs to quickly decide who his first-choice defenders are and play them against both AIK Stockholm and Wigan Athletic.
If the Scot doesn’t do so, United will be in line for a massive defensive catastrophe.
More than Just a Football Club?
While writing this article United have added another rung to their 32 sponsorship deals by signing a contract with PepsiCo, who will now become the club’s “Official Soft Drinks Partner” in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.
Honestly speaking, United have become more of a corporate powerhouse over the summer.
They raked up an estimated £3m from the pre-season tour, with more than 250,000 fans watching the Red Devils live in stadiums.
The tickets for the match in Sydney were sold within three hours, while the players and club’s ambassadors like Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Irwin spent considerable time fulfilling sponsorship commitments during the tour.
This helped United to enhance their fan base in Asia and Australia and keep the big-paying sponsors happy, but Moyes admitted that his troops suffered when it came to football matters.
‘I don’t know if it would be ideal preparation,’ he said.
‘Certainly, I don’t think it is what every team would choose. But in football now if you’re one of the big clubs you have to take your club to your supporters around the world. The extra money you earn from your sponsors and the marketing side is going to play a big, big part in the future so I think it is something we’re going to have to come to terms with.’
United have now also launched the first ever on-line Pay-Per-View event, which will enable their fans to watch the pre-season game against AIK Stockholm on 6 August on any internet enabled device for a nominal sum of £5.95.
Not to forget that the club’s official Twitter account, launched less than a month ago, has already garnered more than 600,000 followers. Its Japanese edition has also been launched, while United have even made their presence felt on Chinese social network site Sina Weibo.
United are expected to earn more than £130m through their sponsors next season and with the club’s popularity level only rising via social media sites and the recent pre-season tour, the English champions have arguably the best business structure of all football clubs in Europe.