Man U defeated Sampdora 2-1. The Daily Mail:” As all eyes centred on Nemanja Matic’s Manchester United debut, it was another former Chelsea man who claimed the glory for Jose Mourinho in Dublin.
On an evening in which the United manager saw new £40m midfielder Matic complete his first half of football for the club, Juan Mata popped up late on to ensure Mourinho ended pre-season with a victory.
It was a night that started peculiarly for United when one Dublin local pulled a prank and pretended to clamp the team bus into its parking space outside a city centre hotel.
That, however, was as dramatic as things would get on a pleasing evening for Mourinho as Matic earned his first minutes of pre-season after spending the past few weeks training alone at Chelsea’s training ground.
It is quite the compliment to Chelsea manager Antonio Conte that two of his competitors, Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, seem set to embark on the new season by imitating the formula that spearheaded Chelsea’s title charge last season.
In Mourinho’s case, he has even pinched one of the midfield heavyweights that greased the well-oiled Chelsea machine.
The Serbian Matic slotted in seamlessly to a 3-4-2-1 system that mirrored the role he played under Conte last season and we can expect to see United deploy this formation in their more challenging fixtures this season.
Real Madrid in the Super Cup next week will offer a more clearer barometer of United’s comfort in this system and the flaws revealed against Italy’s eleventh best team last season in Sampdoria will require some ironing out.
The back three of Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind in particular, did not always look particularly assured, with the latter of the trio especially suspect.
It was Blind’s complacent streak that very nearly led to United conceding the first goal of this game. As it transpired, the Dutchman’s suspect backpass was instead the starting pistol for a chain of events that led to United taking the lead.
In a most peculiar passage of play, United had appeared for all the world as though they were set to concede.
As David De Gea shimmied to the left side of his penalty area to offer Blind the option of a pass back, the Dutch defender lost sight of his goalkeeper’s bearing.
In doing so, he applied too much force to his pass and further embarrassment was only spared as a heroic lunge by De Gea kept the ball out of United’s own goal.
Yet in his desperation, the Spaniard used his hands and an indirect free-kick from point-blank range followed. A melee of United bodies stemmed the flow and in the blink of an eye, a sea of United shirts blitzed upfield.
Antonio Valencia led the pack down the right flank, carrying the ball fifty yards before Andreas Pereira switched the play with a clipped ball to Matteo Darmian. The Italian does not always appear entirely comfortable with the ball at his feet but here he chested it down before shuffling it across goal where Henrikh Miktaryan turned the ball in.
United coasted along with sufficient assurance for 60 minutes and Mourinho then altered the formation for the final half hour to a more conventional 4-2-3-1 system when he replaced Blind with Martial.
United almost immediately extended their lead when two more substitutes combined, as Ander Herrera stroked home Marouane Fellaini’s knockdown – but the linesman’s flag curtailed the Basque midfielder’s celebrations.
For United, it was a rare sight of goal in a rather ponderous performance in which their most talented players rarely demonstrated their gifts.
Certainly, Mourinho will be irked by the manner in which United rather allowed the match to drift along without too much urgency and in doing so, they invited their limited Italian opponents to grow in confidence.
Sampdoria equalised just past the hour mark when a rampage down the left was only partially cleared by Smalling, teeing up the Belgian Dennis Praet to glide onto the scene and stroke the ball in from just outside the penalty area. Smalling then doubled down on his error by shifting his body to block the strike, only to then withdraw at the final split-second to leave his goalkeeper deceived.
Yet with the clock ticking down and the Italians increasingly disjointed by a flurry of substitutions, Martial carried the ball into the penalty area and teed up Mata to seal the win.