Lindelof’s struggles, Pogba’s leadership: Manchester United tour talking points | Football

Published on July 28, 2017

1 Mourinho has been a ‘happy’ manager, keen to play down his side

Tottenham Hotspur are “big favourites” for the Premier League while Manchester United have only a fighting chance and are inferior to Real Madrid and Barcelona.

These were the three notable declarations from the manager, who emanated calmness throughout the tour. Pre-season trips are hardly the seething cauldron of English football in mid-winter. However, in all José Mourinho’s pre- and post-game media conferences in the United States there has been no flicker of flintiness. When the Guardian sat down with him in Georgetown, Mourinho insisted on stretching the discussion when a press officer wished to close it. There was then an off-the-cuff invite to watch training after the chat.

Mourinho, according to those close to him, “has been particularly happy” during a near-three week stay that has taken in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Houston, Santa Clara and Washington DC. The results helped: 5-2 versus LA Galaxy, 2-1 versus Real Salt Lake, 2-0 versus Manchester City and 2-1 on penalties versus Real Madrid, plus the 1-0 reverse against Barcelona. Following that defeat came the declaration that Real and Barça are different class: this is true. The assertion that Tottenham are the favourites for the league: hmm – Mourinho may be being cute as privately he quite fancies United’s chances.

José Mourinho satisfied with Manchester United’s US tour – video

2 Lukaku appears to possess the goods

To sanction a £75m outlay for a No9 means goals have to come instantly. Cue to the 38th minute of United’s second friendly, against Real Salt Lake. Romelu Lukaku executes some Fred Astaire footwork, removes a defender and the goalkeeper and hits the winner. Next, cue to the 37th minute of the derby with City in Houston. The Belgian rushes on to a Paul Pogba ball, makes a mug of City’s new No1, Ederson, then has tricky work to execute: scoop the ball in from an angle becoming more acute. Lukaku does and secures another impressive goal. Mourinho adores a big goal-machine of a centre-forward – see Didier Drogba and Diego Costa – so he will hope Lukaku keeps on keeping on when the real stuff starts.

3 Lindelof has struggled

The defender Victor Lindelof needs to swiftly improve his form for Manchester United. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The 23-year-old stands at 6ft 2in yet allowed Galaxy’s 5ft 9in Giovani dos Santos to outjump him at a corner as the Mexican scored his second in Carson. The same player had made Victor Lindelof appear amateurish earlier when ghosting inside the Swede for his first goal.

Lindelof was hauled off at half-time against City and Barcelona in an indication of how Mourinho viewed his displays. The inflated market means £31m is par for a Premier League-unproven centre-back but this is United and Mourinho so a near-instant return is expected. Marcos Rojo is a long-term injury absentee but in Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind and the emerging Axel Tuanzebe, Lindelof faces strong competition.

4 Pogba cements status as de facto captain

Michael Carrick is the official armband wearer but Paul Pogba is United’s heartbeat, a player who featured the most – with 270 minutes – and who is intent on pointing United forward. On the training ground, in the dressing room, at the team hotel and when in transit Pogba wears a near-permanent smile that puts a bounce into his team-mates. And his role in the acquisition of his friend Lukaku – he dubbed himself “Agent” – can hardly have upset Mourinho and the club. Expect him to have a defining campaign for United.

5 The ‘missing’ player(s) United flew home without

Lukaku’s arrival in time for the opening day of tour training eased Mourinho’s frustration at having added only Lindelof to his squad. Fast-forward two and a half weeks to the end of the trip and the manager is yet to strengthen further. A theme of Mourinho’s media conferences in America was how two new players would be ideal, though he would settle for one. And that there is empathy regarding the difficulties faced by Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman charged with landing United’s targets.

Privately it is clear Mourinho wants two signings: a defensive midfielder (at the moment Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic is favourite) and a wide player, with Internazionale’s Ivan Perisic still on the radar. His patience with Woodward is bound to return to pre-tour levels should one or both of these not arrive in the coming week or so.

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