Van Gaal’s road show is up and running
Manchester United beat LA Galaxy in front of 86,432 spectators at the Rose Bowl
Jonny Evans of Manchester United fights for the ball with Robbie Keane of the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Photograph: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Louis van Gaal show is up and running and in the brightest of lights after a 7-0 trouncing of Los Angeles Galaxy in front of an 86,432 crowd at the Rose Bowl.
Yet with the Dutchman complaining about Manchester United’s commercial demands impacting on his preparation – he actually questioned if the club was “too big” before this friendly – Van Gaal will not have been encouraged by coming close to arriving late for the 20.06 kick-off time due to the LA traffic.
The first moment of on-field intrigue came when the team sheet fell and the name of Darren Fletcher and not Wayne Rooney was followed by the little “c” in brackets that denoted the Scot had been elected the first captain of Van Gaal’s debut outing as Manchester United manager.
The Dutchman had elected to field a 5-2-3 that encouraged Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia, its wingbacks, to push forward to support a central duo of Fletcher and Ander Herrera, who proved United’s most impressive performer on a sultry night at this picturesque ground in the hills of Pasadena.
Up top were placed Juan Mata, Rooney and Danny Welbeck who were all expected to offer fluidity by interchanging position and finding space. In the opening stanza this worked fine as United headed to the break 3-0 up.
But after Van Gaal’s inaugural half-time talk he made nine changes, with only Herrera and Fletcher, who dropped into central defence, surviving. This makes offering any kind of telling verdict on Van Gaal’s bow as manager difficult though with Reece James, a 20-year-old left-back on for Shaw, netting twice on debut as United scored four second half goals, it is fair to posit that the Midas touch Van Gaal displayed when leading Holland to third-place at Brazil 2014 remains.
Thirteen minutes were all that had been required for the opening strike of the Iron Tulip era. After a start in which the Galaxy might have scored first when Stefan Ishizaki fed Gyasi Zardes, who forced a sharp save from David de Gea, United struck through Welbeck. The striker had earlier gone close to beating Jaime Penedo with a bullet of a shot. This time, after a Mata hip-swivel allowed the Spaniard to cut inside and find Welbeck, he let fly a 25-yard arrow that beat Penedo to score off the goalkeeper’s right post.
The Galaxy, captained by Robbie Keane, were an outfit 17 matches into their Major League Soccer season yet Van Gaal will be delighted by how United controlled the majority of play. But as might be expected for a United team in their opening outing of pre-season, under a new manager, playing a fresh 5-2-3 shape that featured the new-boys, Herrera and Shaw, there were still concerns for Van Gaal.
His band could be disjointed with passes going awry and players being caught out of position. Shaw was guilty of both, with the ball he failed to locate Herrera with leading to the Zardes chance. Chris Smalling, playing to the right of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans in Van Gaal’s centre-back trident, could be clumsy, blasting one regulation pass straight out and slipping over at other times.
Yet Jones, who will surely hope to be selected in his favoured position this season, was impressive. His best moment of the first period came when preventing a clear chance for Keane by poking out a boot to make the tackle inside the area. While the Galaxy No7 complained to Baldomero Toledo, the referee, he did not have case. Neither did AJ Delagarza following a clear handball of Valencia’s cross inside the area which moved Toledo to point to the spot. Rooney stepped, up coolly placed the penalty to Penendo’s left, and that was 2-0.
Even better followed in added time of the first half. This time Welbeck moved down the right and, when he played the ball over, Tommy Meyer contrived to kick only air and Rooney was clear in on Penedo. The Liverpudlian’s chip from close range was repelled, but Rooney subsequently stroked home into the open goal.
James’s first moment to remember came on 62 minutes when Hererra rolled the ball along the right to Ashley Young. The wideman, one of a bunch of United players who are fighting for their United futures, looked up and found the Bacup-born James and he rifled home to make it 4-0. James was in dreamland when claiming his second - on 84 minutes – before a late Young double handed Galaxy a 7-0 hammering and gave Van Gaal the very best of starts.