Dimitar Berbatov grabbed a goal and set up another as Manchester United opened the summer tour with a 3-1 victory over Celtic in Toronto. With doubts surrounding the Bulgarian’s future after a disappointing 2009/10 campaign, Berbatov struck the right notes as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team eased to a win in the first of seven pre-season matches.
Substitutes Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley also scored for United, with Georgios Samaras converting a penalty for Celtic as Ferguson’s team saw its first action on the summer after 11 days intensive fitness training.
United began with a strong line-up including Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar, Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes, although the Dutch ‘keeper aside the Reds’ back four averaged just 20.5 years-of-age with. Smalling made his début alongside Jonny Evans, and the da Silva brothers.
Indeed, the Brazilians on United’s right and left flanks offered plenty of width and dynamism in the opening half before wholesale substitutions broke up the flow of the Reds’ play.
Berbatov’s contributing was telling, expertly controlling Mame Biram Diouf’s cross with his right, before firing into the net with his left. It was typical Berbatov brilliance for the goal, which followed shortly after the Bulgarian fired wide from the edge of the 18 yard area. Such is the frustration with Untied’s £30.5 million signing.
Débutant Smalling’s contribution was less noteworthy, beaten for pace by Joe Ledly before dragging the Welshman down for a penalty. The former Fulham central defender will be thankful that red cards are rarely handed out for professional fouls in pre-season friendlies.
The steep learning curve of a United career begins here for Smalling, whose physique, pace and neat touch mark him out as a signing of potential high-class as long as the mistakes don’t continue.
Berbatov ended the match on a high, first swivelling to set up Welbeck from the right, before the Bulgarian’s back-heel opened up a shooting opportunity for Cleverley. Followers of the midfielder’s time at Watford will know Cleverley rarely needs a second invitation to shoot, this time benefiting from a heavy deflection for the goal.
Ferguson declared himself pleased with the workout, in front of plenty of empty seats but an enthusiastic Canadian crowd.
“We try and get the preparation to a point where they want to want to start playing games. There was a little bit of boredom in the training yesterday (Thursday). They had seven days at Carrington, four days in Chicago and they were desperate for a game,” said the Scot who now takes his team to Philadelphia for a match with the Union on Wednesday.
“The first game is one you want to get out of the road because fitness comes into it, as does the time you give to your players. I thought we were nearly right. I was pleased some of the performances were good.
“There was a period after Celtic scored they got a bit of dominance over us. That was a period we had to get through. The second goal killed the game. It was a fantastic goal too. A marvellous bit of football from Berbatov. The criticisms of him, it doesn’t come from our camp.
“Celtic were very competitive. That’s been the way when we have played them. There is not a lot in it between the two teams because the Scotland-England thing motivates both sets of players. It was never going to be an easy match,” added the United manager.
Ferguson reserved special praise for the Bulgarian striker though, who class is not in doubt but application and attitude most certainly are. With reports suggesting that United is prepared to offload the forward – offering him to European clubs this summer – Ferguson dismissed criticisms of the fragile striker, whose confidence was so obviously shot towards the end of the last campaign.
If he stays – and it remains an if for now – the Bulgarian could yet have a significant impact on the coming season.
United: Van der Sar; Rafael (De Laet 63), Smalling, J.Evans (Brown 45), Fabio (O’Shea 45; Obertan (Macheda 63), Fletcher, Scholes (Gibson 45), Giggs (Cleverley 45); Berbatov, Diouf (Welbeck 63).
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.