Manchester United begins its North American tour with a match against Celtic in Toronto tonight. Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad, missing several key members through injury or an extended summer break, takes on the Scots in the first of a six match summer tour. Four further matches also follow before the tour ends in Mexico on 30 July.
Ferguson, keen to draft in younger players whom the Scot believes will become the basis of next season’s squad, and without the club’s World Cup players, has taken a much weakened squad to North America for the three-week tour. Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Antonio Valencia, Anderson, Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves also remained in Manchester recuperating from injury.
Indeed, it is likely to be an experimental line-up that takes to the Rogers Centre field tonight, with Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Javier Hernández and Park Ji-Sung also absent from the party that crossed the pond earlier this week.
Canadian supporters’ loss is younger players’ gain, with the da Silva brothers, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda all hoping to feature in tonight’s match against Neil Lennon’s Scots.
The match should also include débutant Chris Smalling, whose £10 million arrival from Fulham was sealed six months ago. After a tough second half to the season with the London club Smalling will gain much from pre-season, not least with Ferdinand and Vidic both missing.
United arrived in Toronto today for the match at the 50,000 capacity Rogers Centre despite the squad’s flight from Chicago being delayed due to bad weather. But with ten days fitness training behind it – four of them in the US – tonight is the first time United has kicked a ball in anger since May.
“We are excited about the game as we have completed 10 days of pre-season training,” said Darren Fletcher, who could captain the side tonight Ferdinand and Neville’s absence.
“Being Scottish, Celtic is an interesting match for me. Training has been difficult but I am sure we will feel the benefits once the season gets under way.
“It was hot enough in Manchester but the heat and humidity in Chicago was something else. It takes a little bit more out of you in training. But it is good preparation for what lies ahead.”
Ferguson, starting his 25th season in charge of United, is likely to make wholesale changes at half-time with most of the 23-man tour party offered some minutes on the pitch against the Scottish giants.
“You have to be careful as you are not accustomed to playing 90 minutes as your body has had a rest,” adds Fletcher.
“So I would not be surprised to see the minutes managed by the coaching staff. I can see players perhaps playing 60 minutes or half a game with a lot of changes. It means everyone will get a fair share of playing time.”
United then travel 500 miles south to Pennsylvania, where Ferguson team takes on the local MLS side Philadelphia Union next Wednesday.
United team from: Edwin van der Sar, Tomasz Kuszczak, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Rafael, Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher, Darron Gibson, Chris Smalling, Nani, Fabio, Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Mame Biram Diouf, Tom Cleverley, Ritchie De Laet, Corry Evans, Ben Amos, Gabriel Obertan.