Real Madrid vs. Manchester United: What Louis van Gaal Learned
Louis van Gaal's Manchester United had won all of their pre-season games in the runup to the match against Real Madrid. They beat L.A. Galaxy, Roma and Inter Milan, with Van Gaal trying to perfect his new 3-5-2 formation.
United's starting team for the game against the European champions was: David de Gea; Michael Keane, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans; Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Darren Fletcher, Ashley Young; Juan Mata; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck.
Welbeck went off injured, Rooney tried to claim a goal that wasn't his and, importantly, United won, 3-1. But what might Van Gaal have learned from the performance?
We examine four insightful takeaways for the new United boss here.
Juan Mata Is Fantastic
According to WhoScored.com, he assisted more goals than anyone in the Premier League that year and registered a combined 24 goals and assists in 31 starts.
The player himself believes the position is his best.
"If I play behind the two strikers I feel comfortable," said Mata, via David McDonnell in the Mirror. "I've played on the left or right, but my best season was when I played in that position at Chelsea under Rafa Benitez."
In the first half in particular against Real Madrid, Mata was pulling all the strings, making forward runs and getting shots away.
The Spaniard certainly caught the eye of Goal.com's Stephen Darwin: "His runs from deep in behind the Madrid defence were causing problems for the likes of Pepe and he appeared to thrive in Van Gaal's fluid 3-4-3 system that gave him plenty of room to pop up in numerous positions across the front line."
As the club's record signing, it seems crazy to play him at any position other than where he performs best, and hopefully Van Gaal will continue starting him there next season.
Young Has Earned His United Future
Ashley Young isn't the most popular of players among the United faithful. He has steadily gotten worse in every passing season since moving to Old Trafford and has done very little to justify his £16 million price tag.
However, to illustrate the awesome ability of Van Gaal, Young is actually starting to look like quite a player in his transformed position of wing-back.
He scored his third and fourth goals of the pre-season, against the champions of Europe, to illustrate just how far he's come.
It will be interesting to see how he will get on when the season actually starts, but as it stands, he's certainly providing Luke Shaw with competition. I can't quite believe I'm saying that.
Fletcher Is a Genuine Option
This time a year ago, Darren Fletcher was fighting for any sort of career in football, let alone maintaining his place at Manchester United.
He is battling ulcerative colitis, and last July, he had yet another operation to try to overcome the side effects of the illness.
In the game against Real Madrid, Fletcher was spraying passes all over the pitch and was unlucky not to score in the first half when his long-range shot went just wide of the post.
United fans would want to keep Fletcher around out of sentimentality, given he has spent his entire career at the club, but Van Gaal has no reason to do that. However, based on his form this summer, Fletcher deserves his place in the squad for next season.
United Need Another Defender
Poor Michael Keane. He was given a footballing lesson against the European champions, being faced with the task of keeping Gareth Bale out.
United were controlling the game in the first half when Keane was well beaten by Bale. The Welshman effortlessly ran past Keane, leaving the inexperienced defender putting his arms all over Bale to try to stop him. Bale probably went to ground too easily, but the referee didn't have much choice but to award a penalty, which Bale then scored.
At the start of the second half, an almost identical situation ensued, with Keane getting skinned again, but this time he managed to stop himself from fouling the Real Madrid man.
Phil Jones looked pretty sturdy, and he is clearly complemented by being part of a back three, but Van Gaal is maybe considering that Keane isn't ready for the Premier League just yet.