Manchester United 0 Barcelona 1
Manchester United closed their pre-season tour of America on a dissonant note by losing this fifth outing in what was a pedestrian showing from José Mourinho’s outfit.
The manager has serially stressed results do not matter and United’s time here is all about fitness and team gelling. Thus he will return home content with the five matches that have certainly kick-started that process.
Mourinho was however unhappy at his rearguard. “It was an open game, we didn’t defend well,” he said. “I’m not happy. But in the second half lots of changes for them and for us, but both teams play for the result we tried to equalise, they tried to keep the ball, possession and defend well so in second half the match was positive.”
United are due back in Manchester early on Thursday morning and will touch down with four victories under their belt as thoughts turn to the Uefa Super Cup meeting with Real Madrid in Macedonia on August 8th. Mourinho’s side face Vålerenga and Sampdoria in their final warm-ups before the trip to Skopje.
As Ernesto Valverde started with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez up top, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in midfield, and Javier Mascherano and Marcelo as part of his defence, this was the strongest opposition United faced during their 18 days away.
So after those four previous wins the mission to achieve a clean sweep required what would be United’s most impressive victory of the trip.
The challenge began promisingly. Marcus Rashford, operating on the right of United's 4-2-3-1, hit Romelu Lukaku with a ball that skidded towards the striker as he raced into the area. Lukaku connected but the ball was skied over Jasper Cillessen's goal.
From here Barca dominated for most of the half though United had their moments. First up was Neymar who followed a dribble by hitting a shot straight at David De Gea. Next, Neymar fed Messi and he did the same – the No1 spilling this time before recovering.
Suarez now became the latest Barca player to find space between United’s lines. When he broke through the attempt this time tested De Gea and he saved well, conceding a corner. Messi went far closer when given another chance, the No10 beating De Gea but not the goalkeeper’s left post.
United found Barca’s ultra quick pass-and-go difficult to stem. They are not the first and will not be the last to do so. And to their credit when they managed to wrest the ball into their possession and rove forward questions were asked of Valverde’s unit.
Rashford and Paul Pogba, in particular, were keen to take the contest to Barca. The latter made one buccaneering run down the right that stretched the turquoise rearguard and earlier Pogba had turned Carles Alena neatly before blazing at Cillessen, the keeper beating ball away.
Rashford provided United’s best moment of the stanza. From a position on the left he raced toward goal, beat Suárez and Samuel Umtiti, and at close range smacked the ball at Cillessen, who repelled it.
Given Barca’s technical superiority, the last thing United wanted was to cede the ball needlessly. Yet they did so by clumsy passing and deciding, on occasion, to hoof the ball in the air from a goal-kick.
This, as Pep Guardiola argues, often means it comes back at you quickly. So it was that from a De Gea clearance Neymar was almost instantly in on the Spaniard and United were fortunate they did not concede.
Yet this giving away of ball led to Barca's winner. This time United lost it near the Catalans' area and defence quickly turned into attack. Daley Blind's attempted pass went awry, Barca zipped forward, Suárez fed Messi, he threaded the ball into Neymar's path inside the area, Antonio Valencia hashed a tackle, and the No11 made no mistake.
United came close to allowing a second before half-time via a similar mix-up. Blind – again – was culpable, this time for a foul that gave away a free-kick when he downed Messi. The Argentinian took this and flipped the ball towards Suárez. Victor Lindelof did well to put his head on the pass but the act confused Chris Smalling and United only just escaped.
Barça deserved the advantage and started the second half holding a lead they would not surrender. For United’s final 45 minutes Stateside, Mourinho switched the same three players in defence as during the break of the 2-0 win over Manchester City in Houston.
Out went Lindelof, Blind and Smalling, and in came Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, and Matteo Darmian. Sergio Romero also replaced De Gea and Marouane Fellaini was on for Michael Carrick.
The good news for United was that the Messi-Suárez-Neymar trident was also completely removed. The bad news was proceedings lacked their previous stardust. If this killed the high-quality that had been on display, Barca still managed to pull United around to put Darmian under pressure, the left-back punting the ball into touch.
Andres Iniesta was on for Barça and a genius of a midfielder will have been dismayed at the manner in which one pinpoint pass rebounded off Arda Turan – another substitute – for momentum to be lost.
To try and pull the match around Mourinho made two more changes on 62 minutes. Andreas Pereira took the anonymous Henrik Mkhitaryan’s place and Anthony Martial did the same regarding the similarly ineffective Jesse Lingard.
As De Gea had been, Romero was the busiest of the two keepers. The Argentinian was called into action when Paco Alcacer could shoot from a few yards and he was able to keep his side only a strike behind. At the other end Pereira twice took aim but could nor beat Cillessen.
At the death, Rashford might have nicked an equaliser but this would not have been deserved.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Cillessen; Nelsinho, Umtiti, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Alena; Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea (Romero, ht); Valencia (Tuanzebe, 84), Lindelof (Jones, ht), Smalling (Bailly, ht), Blind (Darmian, ht); Pogba (Fellaini, ht), Carrick; Rashford, Mkhitaryan (Pereira, 62), Lingard (Martial, 62); Lukaku.
Yellow: Pogba (39), Fellaini (83)