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Arsenal vs. Utd: Mutual hatred

50-50 Challenge 5 days ago
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 By Musa Okwonga
Jul 26, 2014

No room for Man Utd complacency

Rooney's opening goal was the first of three impressive strikes on a hot day in Denver.

It is a measure of Louis van Gaal's thorough approach that he will most probably dwell longer on the two goals that his team conceded than the fact that Manchester United defeated last season's Serie A runners-up. It is also a measure of the raised expectations he has brought that supporters will be looking for improvement, rather than resting on laurels.

Just as against the LA Galaxy, whom they defeated 7-0 in the first game of their pre-season tour, Van Gaal's men led 3-0 at half-time, following two goals from Wayne Rooney -- from open play and the penalty spot -- and Juan Mata.

The other notable feature of that first half was that it saw the captain's armband  worn by Tom Cleverley, a man whom van Gaal had promised a full ninety minutes to show his quality. That Cleverley was withdrawn, then, after only 69 might be some cause for his concern.

The England midfielder seemed best equipped to thrive in this tactical set-up, which consisted of two wing-backs pushing ahead of him whilst he found himself in a tight midfield three with Mata and Ander Herrera. However, he failed to impose himself on proceedings, with concessions of the ball putting his team in jeopardy whilst the game was still scoreless. Around him, by painful and ominous contrast, Mata and Ander Herrera worked to impressive effect.

Cleverley was not the only player to experience difficulty. Luke Shaw is still adapting to the role of left-wing back, which means that he has dozens of extra yards to cover each time either his team or the opposition have possession. It is a role into which he has plenty of time to grow, but not one where the searing conditions of Denver would see him especially comfortable.

The climate was a daunting opponent for both Manchester United and Roma, with the teams taking breaks for drinks following an opening 20 minutes of patchy play which saw the Italians were in the ascendancy. Thus, the surprise was that United took the lead, with an exceptional 30-yard strike from Rooney that swerved from right to left before nestling in the top corner.

- Rooney praised by Van Gaal

Rooney and Mata then teamed up superbly for the game's second, a superb through-ball from the former was brought down by the Spaniard, who then lobbed the ball delicately over Lukasz Skorupski. When Rooney \dispatched a penalty on the stroke of half-time with an unaccustomed confidence, it looked as if Van Gaal's players were on their way to their second rout of the tour.

Yet this was Roma, not the LA Galaxy, and whilst Van Gaal made nine changes at the break, Rudi Garcia introduced Miralem Pjanic, Francesco Totti and Ashley Cole. Pjanic scored the goal of the match and possibly the pre-season, a 60-yard drive with minimal backlift that soared over an embarrassed Ben Amos and dipped under the bar, whilst Totti crashed a penalty high to the goalkeeper's right to ensure a slightly more anxious few minutes than should have been the case.

Van Gaal will be pleased at how ruthlessly Rooney and Mata tore through a defence starring the highly-regarded Mehdi Benatia. Mata looks so much more of a goal threat, and has a far greater chemistry with Rooney than Shinji Kagawa, who struggled to make an impact in the second half. In his own way, he has as much room to worry as Cleverley does; he clearly has the ability, but Van Gaal's first-choice front three is already beginning to announce itself, and Adnan Januzaj is waiting in the wings as the team's second-choice no. 10.

On the whole, this was another encouraging performance. There were good passages of passing, and Ashley Young, for one, looked enlivened in attack, whilst Antonio Valencia looks like he will be happier as wing-back than he has been at either right-back or wing.

Apart from a sluggish start, too, the three-man central defence looks as though it may be fit for purpose at Premier League level, though they will probably need one or two reinforcements in that area before the season starts. Good progress, then, and no room for complacency; which, one suspects, is precisely how Van Gaal likes it.