From a favoured formation to potential star signings, here is what we learnt from Jose Mourinho’s first game in charge of Manchester United…
Dressed in a black Manchester United tracksuit, a relaxed Jose Mourinho watched his new side cruise to a 2-0 pre-season victory against Wigan in his first game in charge.
With thousands of United fans in the DW Stadium chanting his name it was an ideal start to Mourinho’s tenure.
However, this is the third time in four years United have kicked off pre-season with a new man at the helm and high hopes for what’s to come. Indeed, Louis van Gaal’s era began with a 7-0 thrashing of LA Galaxy.
So, what did we learn from Mourinho’s first game in charge of Manchester United? We take a look…
Mourinho’s tactical choice
Mourinho favoured the 4-2-3-1 system at Chelsea and it looks as though he will persist with the formation at United after deploying the tactic in this pre-season opener.
With 13 players still recovering from their international exertions at Euro 2016 and the Copa America, many of the names in the line-up on Saturday are likely to change come United’s Premier League opener against Bournemouth, but the overall plan seems clear.
Rather than wingers, Mourinho is looking to his full-backs to provide attacking width, use pass masters such as Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in front of the back four and place the creative responsibility on a technically talented attacking trio behind a lone striker.
The formation – also used by Van Gaal during his tenure, although the Dutchman switched to a 4-1-4-1 at times – does throw up some areas of debate in terms of selection.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – who scored 18 goals and registered 25 assists from the No 10 position for Dortmund last season – will most likely have to vie with Wayne Rooney for the central role behind the forward, while United have an abundance of options in the wider attacking roles and deep-lying central midfield positions.
Mkhitaryan excites at No 10
There were around 7,000 Manchester United supporters in the DW Stadium and they will have left Wigan’s home ground excited by the prospect of watching Mkhitaryan in their colours this season.
The £26.3m man from Borussia Dortmund lit up the Bundesliga last season and was the standout performer during the first half on Saturday, creating openings for his team-mates with flicks, back-heels, surging dribbles and through balls. Memphis Depay should have scored from the Armenian’s work on at least two occasions.
A miscued shot over the bar when well placed at the back post was the only major error in an otherwise promising 45 minutes from Mkhitaryan, and the player, described as “top class” by Mourinho after the game, will be a key asset in whichever of the three spots he takes up behind the striker in 2016/17.
Bailly impresses at the back
On signing 22-year-old Eric Bailly from Villarreal for £30m, Mourinho said the one question mark he had over the centre-back was whether he would be able to perform to his potential from day one in the intense spotlight that shines on Manchester United.
A pre-season friendly against Wigan is far removed from the heat of the battles awaiting United in the new season, but the Ivory Coast international appeared calm and composed throughout his debut.
Tall, strong and pacey, Bailly clearly has the physical attributes required to play at centre-back in the Premier League, but he also showed skill with the ball at his feet. There was fan-pleasing flair, too, when he flicked the ball over Will Grigg’s head in the centre circle before chesting it down and looping a pass over another Wigan player to Ander Herrera.
On this evidence, Bailly looks ready to face the examinations of England’s top flight.
Luke Shaw is back
Ten months on from suffering a double leg break against PSV in the Champions League, Shaw made an impressive return to action against Wigan.
Mourinho had spoken before the game of the England left-back’s good physical and mental state and Shaw slipped seamlessly back into United’s defensive line.
Van Gaal struggled to find a replacement for Shaw after his injury last September and Mourinho will be pleased to be able to call on his services this season. The former Southampton man kept possession tidily as United looked to break down Wigan and showed glimpses of his pace going forward, which will no doubt trouble defences.
Youth given a chance
Mourinho passionately defended his record of bringing through young players in his first United press conference and, with a number of more experienced stars absent, he had the chance to hand game time to some of Old Trafford’s emerging talents.
No fewer than 10 Manchester United academy graduates aged 23 or under made it onto the field against Wigan, with Will Keane and Andreas Pereira providing the goals.
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Pereira, in particular, impressed, shining in a deep central midfield role, where he spread the ball across the pitch and chose his moments to press forward and support the attack. His performance earned a warm handshake at the final whistle from Mourinho, who later described the 20-year-old as an “amazing talent”.
It will be interesting to see how many of the youngsters can hold down their spots when Mourinho has a full squad to choose from.
Mata makes his mark
Mourinho’s appointment appeared to spell the end of Juan Mata’s Old Trafford career. After all, the Portuguese had sold the Spaniard to United when he was at Chelsea despite Mata twice winning the London club’s player of the year prize.
Mata was left on the bench for the first 45 minutes of Mourinho’s first Manchester United game, too. However, when the 28-year-old came on at half-time he set about attempting to prove his worth to his manager.
For United’s first goal, Mata’s pressing forced Jussi Jaaskelainen into a mistake which allowed the forward to tee-up Keane for a simple finish, and he was at the heart of much of the visitors’ attacking play for the rest of the half.
Whether Mata can convince Mourinho during pre-season that he deserves to be part of his plans this time around remains to be seen but he made a solid start on Saturday.