|photo by mac_xill||via PhotoRee|
Manchester United journeyed north to Norway and unlike on their previous travels, this time the team looked more like the eleven that will start the season in just over two week's time at Goodison Park versus Everton. Due to the popularity of United in Norway, the crowd seemed equally enthused by the appearance of both the home side and the visitors -- with virtually every early touch greeted by strong vocal support.
Yesterday's starting lineup featured Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Nani and Ashley Young for the first time this preseason, joined -- most notably of all -- by Nemanja Vidic for the first time since the horrific knee injury he sustained at Basel as United were dumped out of the Champions League last season. To Ulleval Stadium we go, joining the 25.000-plus in attendance for our match report:
o Yesterday's match picked up right where the last game in China left off (in fact, the same could be said for the whole of the pre-season to date): with not much happening. Despite the early enthusiasm of the crowd, there was a subdued quality to the contest's opening quarter hour, with both sides combining to create almost no real chances in front of goal.
o In addition to Ryan Giggs, the most notable absence from the United bench was Sir Alex himself. While the Twitterverse was going wild with speculation that the Scotsman's absence was due to his desire to stay behind to conclude the signing of Brazilian Lucas Moura, we'll wait for the official announcement, if and when it comes. For all of its problems, the United midfield -- if Moura is indeed added -- is getting a bit crowded: Nani, Young, Giggs, Scholes, Carrick, Valencia, Kagawa, Anderson, Cleverly, Powell and more. The competition for a starting spot is going to be fierce, indeed.
o If the main point of the pre-season is to gain match fitness, mission accomplished. If the secondary point of the tour is to gain on pitch chemistry with the new players and give the team a sense of confidence around the net, it's been much more of a split decision. A couple of narrow victories and a tie followed by yet another muddling match of football in which there seemed to be a force field around the net will not exactly have the team steaming into its next match with Barcelona.
o Paul Scholes is the new Darren Gibson. At least that's the way it seemed yesterday, as every one of the Ginger Prince's touches at the top of the box was greeted with the crowd urging Scholes to just "Shoooooooooot!"
o The Valerenga defense was stalwart, but the Reds' attack picked up momentum as the second half played on, and the belief in a United goal became nearly palpable as the game hit the 70 minute mark. Although the movement from the strikers and midfielders in front of goal was better than decent, invariably the team's last ball and shooting were clearly still in pre-season form.
o Another game, another game in which United should've scored buckets of goals but didn't. Mike Phelan's managerial career has not begun with a bang. Thank God it'll be short lived....
This is farlieonfootie for August 6.