This was a friendly only in name yet at the end of an entertaining, sweat soaked 90 minutes,it was Louis van Gaal who emerged victorious, enthused yet left with a few conundrums to solve after securing his first victory over a Premier League rival. Manchester United 3 – 1 Liverpool.
A second-half revival sparked by their captain for the evening, Wayne Rooney, was enough for United to win the International Champions Cup but as Van Gaal and his new charges departed for home, he was left with plenty to ponder.
While Rooney’s display was encouraging along with Ander Herrera and Ashley Young, the performances of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, both terrorised in the first half by Raheem Sterling, were a cause of real concern with the Premier League kick-off under two weeks away.
Both were ponderous and looked to be lacking in confidence playing in the Dutchman’s preferred 3-5-2 formation, which seemed to favour the wing-backs but not the centre-halves.
“It’s nice to win for the fans here and at home, it’s not our favourite opponent and we have given a lot of pleasure to our fans,” said Van Gaal. “This though in the end means nothing. Swansea City and the start of the Premier League is the most important game for us. The momentum though will help us for sure.”
On Rooney he dropped the clearest of hints that the England striker could well be his captain come the start of the season. “I am always looking for opportunities to give players the captain’s armband. Today Rooney played 90 minutes for the first time,” he added. “Fletcher had already done it two times, then he was the captain, and Cleverley because he also had 90 minutes. I think you have to choose when it is possible for the English style. That is when it is possible.”
For Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers, it was a case of first half good, second half less so. “We were worth the lead and had some other chances, perhaps another penalty too. We conceded a disappointing goal and then another,” he said. “But overall I am delighted with the tour, we have worked very hard and we leave with plenty of positives.”
Sterling, though, was the stand-out performer in the first 45 minutes, helping win the penalty which allowed Steven Gerrard to score from the penalty spot, but the way United dominated after the break would have left the Rodgers knowing there is plenty of work to do before the real battles commence, even if five changes in the second half certainly didn’t aid his side.
In the long term, a pre-season friendly between these two bitterest of rivals will not mean much. But in many ways, this match signalled the start of the real serious business for both.
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