[dropcap]B[/dropcap]y the time the Manchester United take to the field on Saturday night it will have been just 53 days since José Mourinho’s side beat Ajax to secure the Europa League. That victory earned the Reds a second major trophy of the season and a place in the Champions League. It turned a six out of 10 season into something better, relaxing some of the pressure on Mourinho to end four years of failure since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. There is much more to do, of course, with Mourinho’s side finishing sixth in the Premier League last season. Improvement is certainly expected, with pre-season critical to ensuring United starts the new campaign on the front foot.
It has already been a summer of some change at Old Trafford, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic released after a single season with the club, Wayne Rooney departing for Everton after more than a decade at United, and Adnan Januzaj joining Real Sociedad. Incoming are the £30 million Swedish defender Victor Lindelof and striker Romelu Lukaku, for whom United may eventually pay a world record fee.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]It has been a summer of some change at Old Trafford, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic released after a single season with the club and Wayne Rooney departing for Everton.[/blockquote]
There will be more too. Mourinho is desperate to land a defensive midfielder, probably to replace newly installed club captain Michael Carrick, and the manager would also like to augment his wide attacking options. Hardly an hour goes by without a ‘inside track’ claimed on every supposed United movement in the market.
Mourinho had wanted to take a full squad to the US for the start of United’s seven game summer programme. Ed Woodward hasn’t quite achieved his manager’s bidding, albeit with six weeks remaining until the transfer window closes.
Transfers are not everything, of course, as Rant noted in last season’s end-of-year review. Mourinho is under pressure to do more with the players he has as well – to ensure that his team makes a real and sustained challenge for the Premier League title in the season to come.
That goal starts with pre-season, with Mourinho’s 28-man squad touching down in Los Angeles last Sunday. The usual mix of commercial activity and pre-season training has followed. Indeed, the manager has set his team on a long-planned series of double training sessions in the intense summer heat of southern California over the past week. Shilling sponsors’ products will be a merciful release.
There will be some football as well, with five matches to follow in the US, before further games in Norway and Dublin before United’s first competitive game of the campaign – the UEFA Supercup against Real Madrid. The Reds kick of the summer tour against LA Galaxy in the City of Angels this Saturday, before facing Real Salt Lake on Monday. There will be familiar opposition against Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Barcelona before United departs the US on 27 July. Mourinho’s team also faces Valerenga in Oslo on 30 July, and then Sampdoria in Dublin on 2 August. The SuperCup on 8 August is the final game before the Premier League kicks off.
LA Galaxy v United, StubHub Center, Carson, 7pm, Saturday 15 July
The last time United faced LA Galaxy, the Reds ran out comfortable 7-0 winners. Almost 90,000 supporters turned out to see the 2014 rout at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, although it was hardly a true barometer of what was to come in the following campaign. This year’s fixture takes place 26 miles south in Carson City, in front a more modest 27,000 crowd. It should be a gentle warm-up for a hectic tour to come.
The hosts are already 13 games into the domestic season, which runs from spring to autumn. Results have been mixed under new coach Curt Onalfo, including a 6-2 drubbing against San Jose Earthquakes last Wednesday. The club is currently eighth in the western conference. LA Galaxy is the most successful franchise since the launch of MLS in 1996, having become MLS champions five times. The club also secured the CONCACAF Champions League in 2000. It is a club that has often tried to mix glamour into its strategy, and is formerly the home of familiar ex-pats including David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, and Robbie Keane. Former Arsenal and Chelsea defender Ashley Cole now plays for the club, while there are also familiar faces in Jermain Jones, Landon Donovan, and Giovanni Dos Santos.
The Brazilian-born American coach is already under pressure having been promoted from his role leading Galaxy’s second string team. Onalfo was previously manager at D.C. United and Kansas City Wizzards – now Sporting Kansas City – and the United States national team assistant. It has proven to be a big step up in what might be a transitional season. As a player, Onalfo enjoyed a journeyman career, starting in the French fifth division with La Ciotat – a period that include diagnosis with and recovery from Hodgkin’s Disease. He later played for the Connecticut Wolves, Mexican second division side Tampico Madero, LA Galaxy, San Jose Clash – later the Earthquakes – D.C. United, Virginia Beach Mariners and finally Maryland Mania. Onalfo played for the US national team once in 1988 during a1-0 victory over Costa Rica.
Real Salt Lake v United, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, 8pm, Monday 17 July
Mourinho’s side faces Real Salt Lake at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Monday. It’ll be the first time the Reds have ventured into Utah, although RSL has previously hosted Real Madrid, Everton and Inter on summer tours. The stadium, which was purpose-built for the MLS side in 2008, holds around 20,000.
Real Salt Lake
RSL is one of the newest MLS sides, having been founded in 2004. The team won the MLS in 2009, losing in the play-off final in 2013, and was runner-up to Monterrey in the 2011 Champions League, a tournament largely dominated by Mexican sides. The club regularly attracts capacity crowds to the compact Rio Tinto Stadium. Results have been disappointing this season, leaving the side in ninth place in the western conference, behind LA Galaxy. The last month alone has brought defeats to Orlando City, San Diego Earthquakes, and lower division side Sacramento Republic in the Open Cup. Still, RSL smashed LA Galaxy last week, to relieve some of the pressure on youthful coach Mike Petke.
The 41-year-old is already under pressure just a few months into his début season with the club. Petke enjoyed a decent playing career, appearing for MetroStars – now New York Red Bulls – D.C. United, Colorado Rapids, and back at the Red Bulls, over a 12-year career all in MLS. He could have taken a very different path though, with the defender enjoying a trial at Bayern Munich in 2000. It came to nothing, only for Kaiserslautern to offer the player a professional contract. Petke chose instead to remain in the US. He has been awarded a place in the MLS All-Star team three times, won the MLS Cup in 2004, and earned two US caps.
After retiring in 2010, Petke took up an operational role at the Red Bulls. He had spells as assistant coach and then interim head coach, before being awarded the manager’s role permanently in January 2013. The Red Bulls won the MLS Supporters’ Shield in Petke’s first season, as the team with the best regular season record. He was fired in 2015, before being hired as Real Monarchs’ head coach in 2015, RSL’s second string side. He was promoted to the top job this summer.
United v Manchester City, NRG Stadium, Houston, 9pm, Thursday 20 July
There will be familiar enemy for United’s third game of the US tour. This will be the first Manchester derby outside the UK, although the two sides were due to meet in China last summer, before bad weather caused the game in Beijing to be called off. The baking hot Texas summer – and a roof – means there should be no risk of cancellation at the 71,000-seater NRG Stadium in Houston.
Last season’s trophyless campaign and a third-place Premier League finish represented a significant disappointment for the Blues after another summer of heavy spending and the arrival of a big name manager. Pep Guardiola’s unique brand of tiki-taka football has secured almost peerless numbers of trophies at Barcelona and Baynern Munich, albeit with already established world-class teams. Not quite so at City last season, despite spending on new acquisitions that topped £180 million, including John Stones, Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gündogan, Nolito, and Claudi Bravo. City’s defence bordered on the chaotic, undermining an array of attacking talent that is surely among the world’s finest. Much more is expected in the campaign to come.
The Spaniard’s reputation as a genius, pioneer and forward thinker took something of a hit last season, albeit in one of the very few failed campaigns of the 46-year-old’s managerial career. As a player, Guardiola was a world-class defensive midfielder for Barcelona and Spain, appearing more than 350 times for the Catalan giants, and earning 47 caps. Guardiola joined La Masia aged 13, spending six years in Barcelona’s youth teams, before making his first team début in 2000. He left Barça for Brescia in 2001, before playing in Qatar with Al-Ahli, and then finally at Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]Guardiola’s reputation took something of a hit last season, albeit in one of the very few failed campaigns of the 46-year-old’s managerial career.[/blockquote]
As a coach, Guardiola has enjoyed almost unprecedented success so few seasons into a managerial career. He has won La Liga three times, the Copa del Rey twice, the Spanish super cup three times, the Champions League twice, the UEFA supercup three times, the FIFA World Club cup three times, the Bundesliga three times, and the DFB-Pokal twice. His coaching career began with a single campaign as coach of Barcelona B in 2007/8, before he was promoted to the first team – the start of four trophy-laden seasons in Catalonia. He spent three more highly successful campaigns at Bayern, before a widely expected move to City last summer.
United v Real Madrid, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, 2pm, Sunday 23 July
When United last faced Real Madrid 109,000 fans turned out in Michigan. This time around the summer fixture takes place at the San Francisco 49ers newly built, slightly more modest, 68,500 capacity Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. It is some 40 miles, and a lot of traffic on the 101, south of the old Candlestick Park.
The club is fresh from a hugely successful second season under Zinedine Zidane. Victory in La Liga, with the team scoring a barely believable 106 goals, came in a season with just three league defeats. Los Merengues also secured a 12th European Cup victory in June, hammering Juventus in the final – one of the best performances in a final in living memory. Earlier in the season Madrid also won the UEFA Supercup and the FIFA Club World Cup. Just the four trophies then. Real should pose quite the challenge for United.
There is little more to say about Zizou’s career. The Frenchman has won almost everything in the game, including the 1998 World Cup with France, the Ballon d’Or in the same year, and the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000, and 2003. Zidane began his career at Cannes in 1989, before moving on to Bordeaux in 1992. It was one of 57 times that Arsene Wenger missed out on signing the finest player of his generation. But it was at Juventus between 1996 and 2001, and then Madrid from 2001 to retirement in 2006 that Zidane truly made his name. Retirement came after that final against Italy in the 2006 World Cup Final. Zidane’s head, Marco Materazzi’s chest. You know the rest.
United v Barcelona, FedEx Field, Landover, 7.30pm, Wednesday 26 July
The Washington Redskins’ 82,000 seater FedEx Field will play host to United’s final game of the US tour. The Catalan giants suffered a difficult season – not least having to watch Real walk away with both La Liga and the Champions League. Last season’s failure concluded Luis Enrique’s two years as manager, with the Spaniard announcing his decision to quit before the season’s end.
It has been a quiet summer in the transfer market to date, although Lionel Messi has committed to the club for another four years, ruining the hopes of City, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain – and any other oil-fueled club around Europe – of signing the now 30-year-old Argentine. Right-back Nélson Semedo has signed from Benfica for around £25 million, while Gerard Deulofeu has returned from Everton, in a largely unchanged squad. Expect movement from Los Culés though, with new coach Ernesto Valverde’s mission now to unseat Real as the premier club in Spain.
Valverde was a middling forward during a career that took him from Alavés, to Sestao, Español, Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, and Mallorca. He played more than 170 times for Athletic in six successful years, spent a couple years at Barça, and another couple at Español. He was UEFA Cup runner-up in 1987 with Español, won the Winners’ Cup in the following year with Barcelona, and then he was part of the Barca side that secured the Copa del Rey in 1990. He won one cap for Spain.
Athletic, Español and Barça are also three clubs where he has also gone on the manage, in a coaching career that has blossomed 15 years after it began. Beginning as a youth coach at Athletic, Valverde has also managed Villareal and Valencia in La Liga, and spent two spells in Greece with Olympiacos. Highlights include a 2006 UEFA Cup final and two league titles in Greece. Valverde returned to Athletic in 2013, with his team qualifying for the Champions League in his first campaign, and then reaching the final of the 2015 Spanish Cup. At the start of 2015/16 Athletic beat Barcelona in the Supercopa – a first trophy in more than 30 years.
Valerenga IF v United, Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo, 7pm, 30 July
Mourinho’s squad returns to Europe to face Norwegian side Valerenga in Oslo. The teams meet five years after playing out a scoreless draw during the Reds’ 2012 summer pre-season. It is likely to be a sell-out 28,000 crowd at Ullevaal, which is located at the northern edge of the Norwegian capital.
Vålerenga is five time Tippeligaen champions and has also won the Norwegian Cup on four occasions, although the club has fallen on harder times in recent seasons. At one stage Vålerenga was close to bankruptcy and has now gone almost a decade without silverware. The team currently lies seventh in the Eliteserien table, with the team already part way through a season that runs from spring to autumn. Former Celtic chief Ronny Deila was appointed manager in January 2017.
United v UC Sampdoria, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, 7.45pm, 2 August
The final game of this season’s summer tour takes United to Dublin for a friendly against Italian side Sampdoria. The 51,00o capacity Aviva Stadium opened in 2009 and is home to both the Irish football and rugby teams. This will be United’s first match against Sampdoria, Sergio Romero’s old club.
I Blucerchiati has a storied history, although the club’s major successes came in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The club won the Serie A title in 1991, and the Coppa Italia four times between 1985 and 1994. By the late 1990s Sampdoria had suffered relegation, returning to the top flight in 2002. The team finished 10th in Serie A last season under new head coach Marco Giampaolo. The Swiss manager replaced Vincenzo Montella, after the former striker quit for the top job at Milan after just a single season in Genoa.
De Gea, Romero, J Pereira; Valencia, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah, Bailly, Blind, Jones, Smalling, Lindelof, Tuanzebe, Rojo, Shaw, Mitchell; Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, McTominay, Pogba, Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Mata, A Pereira; Martial, Rashford, Lukaku