Manchester United began pre-season with a bang, defeating Liverpool 4-0 in Bangkok in Erik ten Hag’s first game in command.
There have been a lot of talks this summer about how Marcus Rashford would benefit from the signing of Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, and the signs in training have been encouraging, but Jadon Sancho is another winger at United who is ready to take off this season.
The £73 million man-made only a brief appearance in his debut season at the club, so it was interesting to see him restored to a right-wing spot against Liverpool. That is a difficult position for United, and Sancho was signed to fill it initially, only to perform better from the left last season.
After two weeks of training under Ten Hag, he looked sharp from the start in Bangkok, and he showed some great talents against rookie left-back Luke Chambers. He grabbed a crossfield pass from Luke Shaw with his heel around the back of his leg midway through the first half, a show of extravagance that hinted at a player bubbling with confidence – and delighted the fans.
Sancho was eager to rush at his man when given the chance, and he finished brilliantly, blasting hard into the bottom corner. This was a promising performance on the right that could help United solve an issue.
Signing Antony, a natural right-winger, is becoming increasingly difficult due to Ajax’s price, and United may have to settle on a center-forward instead, so seeing Sancho prosper on the right will be critical.
Ten Hag would have been encouraged to see two young right-wingers, Facundo Pellistri and Amad, combining for the fourth goal, with the former scoring for the second pre-season goal in a succession.
One of the main annoyances for Manchester United fans is Anthony Martial’s demeanor on the field, which can best be described as laidback.
The Frenchman has never appeared to be the most enthusiastic player, but there were encouraging signs against Liverpool, and the 26-year-old must realize his Old Trafford career is on the verge of being over, so this really makes or break.
He might have been moved this summer if his loan term at Sevilla had gone better, but there are no real takers at the moment, and the situation with Cristiano Ronaldo probably means he needs to stay put.
In Bangkok, he looked sharp leading the line, and the most pleasant aspect of his goal may have been the way he rushed Rhys Williams and forced the defense to give up possession. Martial dashed away, keeping his cool to finish nicely.
Ten Hag clearly wants his squad to push, and you can see that will be a big part of the pre-season. With no other strikers available, Martial will have a great opportunity to establish himself.
De Gea’s new strategy
We know United worked hard in preseason to play out from the back, and it was interesting to see the center defenders stand right next to David de Gea to receive possession and try to pull Liverpool onto them.
It was a weakness in United’s game last season and caused some heart palpitations among Old Trafford fans, but it’s not going away under Ten Hag.
It undoubtedly puts a little strain on David de Gea, who isn’t known for being a powerful goalkeeper with his feet. When he had the ball, he looked shaky once or twice at Rajamangala Stadium, but he also made some good passes under pressure.
The Spaniard will also face difficulties playing behind United’s high line, which has moved much more forward than the previous season. De Gea was called offside once after racing off his line. However, as his opposite number might have warned him, these are situations that are nearly hard to get right all of the time.
Malacia’s first appearance
United’s recruitment activity has been quiet this summer, with Tyrell Malacia the only new signing, and the £12.9 million left-back is expected to be simply a backup for Luke Shaw.
He came in in the second half against Liverpool and had an early fright when he lost possession, but he recovered quickly and put in a hard tackle.
Ten Hag had described himself as “difficult to beat” in his pre-match press conference on Monday, and the manner he fought back in that episode provided some indication of it.
The Dutchman hailed his attacking potential as well, although there was little evidence of it in the second half.
The seats are empty.
Tickets for this game were outrageously pricey for a city that is incredibly cheap on a daily basis, partially because of the necessity to relay the pitch to please both teams, and organizers were charging more for this game than the cost of a recent Justin Bieber performance.
That could explain the empty seats at the national stadium, which was probably only half-filled, and the atmosphere alternated between frenzied and silence. The terrible traffic, which made getting to the stadium from the city center takes up to two hours, could also have played a role.
Another element to consider was Ronaldo’s absence. United will not incur any fines for the absence of their top player on tour, but some bettors may have chosen against this game after it was clear that the 37-year-old would not be there.
That could also explain why Liverpool had more fans inside the stadium than United, with Fernandes and Rashford booed when they appeared on the big screen before kickoff. This is arguably possibly the only place in Asia where Liverpool can rival, if not outnumber, United in terms of fan support.