Football Features

“Martial FC is back in business!” – Winners and Losers as Manchester United beat Melbourne in pre-season

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 13:51, 15 July 2022

Manchester United have won their second consecutive game under Erik ten Hag, beating Melbourne Victory 4-1.

The Red Devils fell behind early on when a counter-attack cut them to ribbons at the back (let the Harry Maguire memes recommence!) and the Australian side then sat back and defended their lead, posing a different challenge to Ten Hag’s side.

It was a challenge that United rose to meet with confidence, growing into the game as they realised the space to attack Melbourne was wide rather than through the middle, “that’s what we worked out after around 15 minutes,” said Scott McTominay to MUTV post-match.

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So United began attacking and created chances, a couple of which fell for McTominay only for defenders to get crucial blocks in at the last minute. Finally the Scottish international let fly from the edge of the box and this time the block deflected the ball up and over the goalkeeper into the back of the net, drawing United level.

Not two minutes later, in first-half stoppage time, United took the lead specifically by working those wide areas. Jadon Sancho released Diogo Dalot down the right and the Portuguese cut the ball back where Anthony Elanga knocked it where Anthony Martial slotted home neatly to make it two goals in two games so far this pre-season.

Like against Liverpool, the second-half saw an all-changed outfield group of players and was a more unique display, marked by goals from Marcus Rashford (ably assisted by Eric Bailly) and an own goal scored after a lovely team move in the 90th minute.

All in all, it was a positive performance from the Red Devils, with Erik ten Hag’s influence being clear and obvious. United are far from the finished project of course but there is a coherence and structure that the club hasn’t seen for years and things are definitely moving in the right direction. Scott McTominay praised his coach, saying: “the level of detail he’s talking, it’s easy to understand.” And that’s key: the best coaches can make the hardest tactics easy to follow. If Ten Hag can do that, United are in business.

Here are some winners and losers from United’s second pre-season win in a row:

Winner: Anthony Martial

Two games played, two goals scored. Martial FC is back in business! It’s easy for hype to generate around strikers when they’re scoring, especially if those strikers are cult hero Anthony Martial who has always, even when he’s struggled, had a sense of destiny about him.

The Frenchman genuinely looks comfortable in Ten Hag’s system and seems to thrive on the increased focus on collective play. His goal against Melbourne was instinctive, but his overall play was bright and he led the line with aplomb.

If Ten Hag places his trust in Martial for the full season, then he might be the man that finally ends United’s 10-year wait for a 20+ goal Premier League forward (after Robin van Persie scored 26 in 2012/13). And that, would be destiny fulfilled.

Loser: Victor Lindelof

United’s performance was good enough that no one really had a bad game but it was notable that a few times in the first-half, and on Melbourne’s goal in particular, Victor Lindelof was still up to his old tricks of stepping out from his defensive line and then not winning the ball or at least conceding a foul to stop play. The Swede is too easily caught upfield and it’s not a good weakness to have.

Winner: Eric Bailly

Just as against Liverpool, Eric Bailly continues to be Manchester United’s most enjoyable defender with his combination of high-speed confidence, competence and yet reckless decision-making. Bailly is a true wildcard but one that even a coach as ordered as Ten Hag would be reluctant to part ways with because there’s so much he can do. His assist for Marcus Rashford being a great example.

Loser: Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire has usually played left-centre-back for Manchester United but it was telling that he played on the right here today. He looked sluggish and rusty on the Melbourne goal (although Lindelof did him no favours) but with Lisandro Martinez coming in, Maguire playing on the right felt very instructive. The Argentine isn’t arriving to be part of the rotation: he will be the starter on the left and it will be up to Maguire to compete with Varane (a better defender) and Bailly (a more exciting talent) for a starting spot.

Winner: Zidane Iqbal

You always love to see youngsters do well on these tours, and United’s breakout performer of this pre-season seems to be Zidane Iqbal. The teenager with the absolutely colossal name became the first British South Asian to ever play in the Champions League last season will be hoping for a breakout campaign this year. And with Frenkie de Jong looking less likely to arrive, there might be a spot Iqbal can fight for.

Based on the game against Melbourne, Iqbal (who is of Pakistani and Iraqi heritage) has all the tools to play for Ten Hag in the middle. He passed the ball well, swept up in front of the defence and even produced a cheeky bit of skill in the final third to delight the crowd.

Iqbal is at least as good as Scott McTominay and has much potential to grow into a more expressive figure. The arrival of Christian Eriksen should provide him the perfect mentor as the Iraq international looks to become United’s latest young star.