Opening pre-season games are often soporific affairs and Manchester United’s 2018-19 edition was no different.
Before a sparse crowd of 37,660 that was markedly below the University of Phoenix Stadium’s 63,400 capacity, José Mourinho’s men ended with a draw courtesy of Juan Mata’s late strike.
The manager fielded an XI that had Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw in defence. He confirmed this as the likely rearguard to start the season against Leicester City due to the post-World Cup break meaning many senior players will not be available.
He was also clear that Alexis Sanchez would go straight into the side when San Jose Earthquakes are faced on Sunday in Santa Clara. The Chilean is due to arrive at the weekend after finally being granted a visa.
Mourinho said: “It is not about when he can, but when he has to. We have no players especially in attack. Today was [Anthony] Martial, and when Martial left the pitch it was Mata. No [Romelu] Lukaku, no [Marcus] Rashford – not here and probably not for the start of the Premier League.
“So it is about when Alexis lands and when he lands he has to play because he trained with us for five days. If he is coming he has to play.”
The Portuguese, though, will still be without Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelöf, and Ashley Young even when De Gea, Matic, and Fred follow Sanchez.
This is a sizeable proportion of front-line players though Mourinho should be conscious it is the same for all United’s Premier League rivals regarding their key personnel requiring holidays following Russia 2018.
Mourinho confirmed Valencia should lead his team again. “I think he is going to be the captain,” he said. “When he doesn’t play we have to make decisions – depends who is on the pitch.
If Smalling, Ashley Young, Herrera, Mata. Nemanja Matic has all the attributes to be Manchester United captain but he arrived only one year ago. I never care much about the captaincy. I care more about the life in the dressing room.”
Martial had an early penalty shout denied by the referee, Kevin Stott, and later United’s centre-forward blazed over from the edge of the box. From similar range Mata brushed Agustin Marchesin’s left post in the closest the touring team went in the opening period.
The manager’s 4-3-3 had Martial splitting Mata to the right and the pacey Mitchell left. The 21-year-old showed quick feet and linked up with Shaw along his flank on occasion.
Lee Grant’s debut in United’s goal was marked by a sharp save from Roger Martinez when the No9 ran through. By the close of the first half Martial had hit a late free-kick over, and Mourinho could be pleased with flashes of slick interplay despite the team’s rustiness.
For the second half Timothy Fosu-Mensah replaced Valencia and Joel Pereira came on for Grant.
Shaw is determined to finally establish himself as first-choice left-back and he proved among United’s most alert performers. There was a brave defensive header and a burst forward to join the attack before he was taken off later on.
When Herrera ceded possession near halfway the Spaniard was grateful to see Pereira make a fine save with a leg from Martinez.
Just before the hour the ‘keeper could do nothing to stop Club América’s Henry Martin as he rose and headed sweetly past him for the opener, Antonio Lopez delivering the cross.
After Mourinho swapped Tahith Chong and Matteo Darmian for Martial and Mitchell, Shaw went close with a right-foot effort that passed the wrong side of Marchesin’s left post.
The double substitution left Mata as a kind of false No9, a ploy that would lead to him claiming the equaliser.
The 18-year-old Chong’s debut for the first-team was followed by Mason Greenwood – two years his junior – when he came on for Shaw with 14 minutes remaining.
Finally, United did find an answer. Chong fired in a cross, Herrera headed against the right post and Mata scrambled past Marchesin.
Manchester United: (4-3-3) Grant (Pereira J, h/t); Valencia (Fosu-Mensah, h/t), Bailly, Smalling, Shaw (Greenwood, 76); Herrera, Pereira A, McTominay (Tuanzebe, 87); Mata (Gomes, 87), Martial (Chong, 60), Mitchell (Darmian, 60)
Subs not used: Williams, Hamilton, Garner, Bohui, Greenwood
Club América: (4-4-2): Marchesin; Aguilar, Alvarez, Aguilera, Reyes; Ibarra, Rodriguez, Corona, Ibarguen; Martinez; Martin
Subs from: Arce, Lopez, Moreno, Torres, Jimenez, Leon, Garcia, Gonzalez, Zamora, Guillen
Goals: Club América – Martin (59); Manchester United – Mata (78)
Yellow: Shaw (72)
Referee: Kevin Scott