Gareth Bale is going nowhere
Jose Mourinho noted prior to Manchester United’s clash with Real Madrid in Skopje that he would view the sight of Gareth Bale not starting as concomitant with the Welshman being surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu. He would, in turn, battle to sign the 28-year-old winger before the window shuts.
Well, Bale started. And he also showed exactly why Mourinho publicly admitted interest in securing his signature with a powerful display out wide in which he struck the woodwork and linked up dangerously with the likes of Isco.
Mourinho was asked at full time whether he thought Bale would remain a Madrid player and responded: “I think so – clearly the club wants him and he wants the club – game over even before it started – everybody knows he is going to stay.”
Romelu Lukaku will score goals this season
The Belgian, with Madrid running rampant, didn’t see much of the goal during the opening stages, save for a header straight at Keylor Navas. In the second, however, a glorious, seemingly unmissable chance came his way when a Paul Pogba header was parried into his path, only for the £75m man to fire over.
It felt as if, four years on from his last UEFA Super Cup nightmare, the demons were still lurking, but he was on hand to pounce once again as Nemanja Matic’s shot wriggled away from Navas and he duly tucked home.
He could have claimed a brace and put United level – frustrating, yes, but the bigger picture painted here is unequivocally positive: the striker will receive a bucketload of chances this season. His capacity for lurking into goalscoring positions cannot be underestimated, and the success of United’s season, you sense, will be largely dictated by how prolific he can be.
Victor Lindelof remains a concern
Mourinho noted ahead of the game that Lindelof, his first signing of the summer, will need more time to settle in at Old Trafford following a shaky pre-season.
And you could see why. The Swede has struggled for assurance, both positionally and physically, over pre-season and he once again looked shaky alongside Chris Smalling. He enjoyed one of his better games on the ball in a red shirt but, once again, his awareness let him down – especially in the lead-up to Casemiro’s goal.
Eric Bailly’s seamless transition into the United side last season may have spoiled us; supporters will need to give the 23-year-old time to settle in over the next few months.
English teams are miles behind Europe’s elite
The prospect of playing the Champions League winners presented United with a chance to show the world their readiness for competing with the very best in Europe next season, but they were handed a footballing lesson instead.
Zinedine Zidane’s men were utterly brilliant, zipping the ball around with purpose and precision all evening as Isco ran the show. The Spaniard deserves a special mention: his capacity for lurking across the pitch and finding space left United on tenterhooks as they hopelessly tried to track him, chopping the midfielder down regularly and ultimately affording the La Liga champions space elsewhere.
Only one English team managed to reach the Champions League quarter final last season and last night was an explicit nod towards exactly why. This is the current benchmark and United, or any other Premier League side, can only look on with awe. Long gone are the days where English sides could compete with this strand of opposition.
Nemanja Matic looks like a brilliant signing
For somebody with only 45 minutes of pre-season action under his belt, facing the best club side in the world in the searing Macedonian heat would have been an unsurmountable task for most.
But Matic thrived. Deployed at the base of midfield, he kept Mourinho’s men in the game. As the likes of Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba struggled to exert themselves on proceedings, the Serbian was Madrid’s chief disrupter throughout, producing a series of important interceptions and moving the ball forward with purpose, each pass weighted perfectly.
Above anything, he is huge presence – both physically and mentally – for Mourinho’s side. He commands an unfailing sense of assurance and direction at all times. Why Antonio Conte would ever let him leave is a mystery. But that doesn’t matter so much: he will be the main engine for United this season.