Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday night was an eye-opener for United fans on how much Jose Mourinho’s team needs to do before they can even think about reaching Real Madrid’s level.
It wasn’t a terrible performance by any means, a 2-1 defeat against the Spanish, European and World champions isn’t a disaster, but the Red Devils are some way off the level they want to be.
Casemiro put Real Madrid ahead after 27 minutes, though there were calls for offside, whilst Isco then doubled the lead in the 52nd minute from eight yards out after a tidy one-two with United target Gareth Bale. New £75 million signing Romelu Lukaku pulled one back with a tap-in following Nemanja Matic’s parried shot.
With Jose’s men somewhat getting outclassed by Los Blancos, we look at five things we learned about the Red side of Manchester after tonight’s game.
1 Three at the back needs to be scrapped
On occasion in pre-season, Mourinho has persisted with a 3-5-2 formation comprising Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Daley Blind, who was suspended last night, playing in the back three, most recently against Sampdoria in Dublin.
It was safe to say that that it did not work.
The likes of Jesse Lingard at left wing back, along with Smalling and Lindelof, were the ones dug out the most for their sub-par first half performances. It was clear that a majority of the side struggled to get to grips with the formational demands, with players unsure of their specific roles. We even saw Paul Pogba end up at wing back at one point.
It could be argued that the lack of pre-season form could explain the shaky defence, but the fact of the matter is that it's untested and unfamiliar system, which doesn't inspire confidence in the players and creates confusion and a lack of clarity over what to do role-wise.
Zinedine Zidane's side simply took advantage of this and pulled the Red Devils out of their base positions with their patience in possession and movement.
2 Fellaini and Matic provide bright sparks
A positive to take from tonight was new signing Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini both put in good performances, with the Belgian having a big impact in the United goal when he came on as a substitute.
Matic added a composed edge to Mourinho's side, picking out some lovely passes to his United teammates, also holding his defensive position well and putting vital pressure on Luka Modric in the first half as he bore down on goal.
The Serbian also had a part to play in Romelu Lukaku's goal with his initial shot parried by Keylor Navas, tapped in by the Belgian to pull one back.
One flaw you could say about his performance, however, was that he was somewhat at fault for Isco's goal. Only having completed one half of football this pre-season, Matic can be forgiven for this lack of sharpness. All in good time...
Fellaini gave Mourinho's team a new dimension when he came on, putting real pressure on in aerial battles with the Madrid defence, something he has developed an expertise in. He won the ball off Dani Carvajal, which began the move for United's goal, adding passion to a particularly downbeat performance.
3 Lindelöf needs time
The summer signing from Benfica was not at his best against a top Madrid side who dominated the ball for most of the first half, with the Swede failing to keep up with the pace of Los Blancos' play.
Social media was also giving him a hard time, with many United fans not happy with his role in Madrid's first goal. Lindelof supposedly kept Casemiro onside according to the officials, though the Brazilian was just about offside and given the benefit of the doubt.
"I would prefer to give him more time but I have no other choices because I lost two more players through suspension and Rojo is injured for a few more months." -Mourinho on Lindelöf.
Mourinho stated post-match he did not want to throw Lindelöf into such a game against Real, but due to the injuries and suspensions to other players he had no other choice.
The outbursts by the United fans were probably jumping the gun a little too much as it was his first competitive game for the club and it will take time for the former Benfica man to develop a sense of cohesiveness with his new defensive partners Eric Bailly and Smalling.
4 Lukaku's hit and miss
The Belgian's competitive debut was a mixed bag. Lukaku bagged his first goal for the club, but also missed a fantastic chance from six yards out. Paul Pogba forced Navas into a save, but Lukaku blasted the ball over from close range. Perhaps nerves, but it's the type of chance he needs to be consistently burying.
Lukaku showed his predatory instincts soon after as he followed in Matic's shot, which landed at his feet and he showed great composure to finish it off with his right foot after the chance he missed beforehand.
I'm sure that Lukaku will be a success at United.
He might miss a few chances before scoring one, but his goal-scoring record at the likes of Everton and West Brom speaks for itself in terms of his quality.
5 Plenty more work to be done
On the basis of last night's performance, Mourinho has some work to do if he wants to get United back on top of the European ladder, competing amongst the top sides on the continent.
"We want, sooner rather than later, to be where Real Madrid were last season, which is in the Champions League final... I think [the gap] is not very big." -Juan Mata on Real Madrid.
Juan Mata's comments pre-match will come back to haunt him as the gulf in quality was there for everyone to see, with the lack of Champions League appearances now coming to the forefront.
It was clear that Untied were some way off the European elite, a place they want to be.
Los Blancos' patience in possession, clinical finishing and movement was a level above Mourinho's side, who were not able to get near the likes of Isco and Modric most of the night. It's worth noting, too, that Madrid were also without key man Cristiano Ronaldo.
Even when Lukaku got one back, you always thought that Madrid will come out of the game as victors.
It really was the champions of Europe versus the sixth best side in England.
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