The Guinness International Champion’s Cup reached its climax on Monday night as Manchester United defeated long-time rivals Liverpool 3-1 in Miami.
Here are some notable talking points as two of England’s biggest clubs return home to start their 2014-15 league campaigns.
Liverpool’s attacking speed is frightening
Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Lazar Markovic are speed-demons that no one will want to face this upcoming season.
Their highest soaring star right now is Sterling. Coming off a sparkling Premier League campaign and a World Cup appearance at an especially tender age, he is among the best young players in the world and appears to be the key man to replace Saurez, not a new signing as may have been expected.
Throughout the night, the 19-year-old Englishman was easily Liverpool’s most dynamic threat. Playing on the left flank, it felt as though everytime the winger went forward, his side may score.
Sterling announced himself as a relevant squad player last season for Liverpool. This season the diminutive attacker my force his way into the catalogue of the globe’s top players.
Coutinho, 22, represents a tactical jackknife as he can pop up and use his wide-range of skills from numerous offensive positions. Though he had a outstanding campaign last term, it feels as though he could offer even more.
If anyone was likely to coax the best from the tiny midfielder it would be Brendan Rodgers. The Brazilian must be thinking it’s his time to shine internationally too after his country’s embarrassing finish at the World Cup. If he takes another step in his development Liverpool will have a chance at returning to second place and he will finally be a regular for the Selecao — accomplishments that are in his reach.
With some saying he is the best talent since Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Markovic could be the fastest of the three. The 20-year-old, who is already a full international with Serbia, was purchased from Partizan Belgrade in the summer of 2013 and only lasted a season with Benefica before a bigger club came calling.
“We have got people, like Markovic, who can beat defenders,” Rodgers told the Daily Mail. “I hope it will be another stand-out season for quality and entertainment.”
All of these attackers will funnel their play into one of the world’s most on-form strikers: Daniel Sturridge.
“You look at young Markovic and Raheem, the pace of Daniel,” Rodgers added. “We have great variety in our attack, full of pace and trickery.”
This is what makes Liverpool’s acquisition of Rickie Lambert such a curious decision. The lumbering forward has been absent — although still on the field — for the majority of the Liverpool’s preseason campaign. During the International Champions Cup finale, it was easy to forget he was even playing. Brendan Rodgers is a genius of football, but it leaves you scratching your head as to how he’ll incorporate the stiff striker.
Manchester United: Shaw and Young are ready to contribute for the new boss
Luke Shaw is coming good. The 19-year-old didn’t put a foot wrong against Liverpool on Monday and played nearly 90 minutes after coming on for an injured Antonio Valencia. His commitment and fitness has been questioned by Van Gaal early on in his time with the Old Trafford outfit, but it’s clear his technical ability is through the roof. Shaw doesn’t make mistakes; his touches and passes leave nothing to be desired.
Even though it feels a bit wide of the mark to compare him to another Southampton prodigy in Gareth Bale, as some have, there’s no question the future is bright for the left wing-back.
Monday he started to show that new level of comfort, which culminated in assist on Juan Mata’s match-winning goal. Shaw took a cooly took a ball down from his feet before quickly playing it across the edge of the 18-yard box and onto the foot of the Spaniard. Patrice Evra is no slouch, but one can already see how United’s attack may soon be improve after his exit.
It looked as though Ashley Young’s football career was declining towards a disappointing end just last season, with his future with the England team and United heavily in doubt. Young could barely make appearances for the meek 7th-place finishers and then wasn’t even given a sniff this summer at making his country’s 23-man squad, which finished 31st out of 32 teams in Brazil. Yet the winger appears to have found new life under his new manager.
To play in Van Gaal’s system wing-backs must have defensive nous, a facet that’s never been emphasized in Young’s game. But against Liverpool not only did Young show he could play without the ball but encouragingly displayed an valiant work rate as he eventually wore down Sterling towards the conclusion of the match.
Young’s offensive touch appears to have returning as well. The former Aston Villa man has scored four goals this preseason for United, including a brace against Real Madrid on Saturday in front of U.S.-record 109,318-strong soccer crowd at the Big House in Michigan. In addition to scoring goals, the 29-year-old can also provide excellent service. Young would not be considered to be among the world’s utmost elite as a player but his crossing skill is among the best on the planet.
Heading back to England, Young has definitely played his way into Van Gaal’s United, a distant dream from a few months ago.
Unfinished business for Van Gaal
Van Gaal has said he’s waiting until United return to England to make his squad subtractions. Fletcher’s performance in Miami didn’t at all suggest he should be among them, in fact he’s played fantastic this preseason and should play a vital role in 2014-15, but it did scream out for the presence of a player like Juventus’ Arturo Vidal.
It’s one of the transfer sagas of the summer that doesn’t look like concluding until the August 31 deadline. Current reports lean towards the Chilean remaining with the Italian side. However, it’s not often you can watch a football team play and easily visualize the most clear pressing issue it has like when one watches United.
A complete, world-class central defensive midfielder is needed. Everyone knows it, including Van Gaal. It would be a shock if the deal didn’t get done for Vidal or a player of his ilk. It seems as though United will eventually offer enough money and only Vidal’s elicit refusal from moving to England will keep the deal from getting done.
Some say Vidal excels in Turin because he’s coupled with another tenacious force in Paul Pogba. Ander Herrera, although an offensive player, has revealed he too has a bite in his play so far with United. The young Spaniard, unlike his compatriot Juan Mata, has the size to battle in the trenches of a Premier League midfield and put in full-bodied challenges when called upon.
Herrera, enraged when he isn’t given a chance to be in possession and display his gifts to the world, lashes out by smashing in and trying to snatch the ball from his opposition. Dovetailing Vidal and Herrera could prove to be a battering and effective combination.
Any other purchases Van Gaal makes will undoubtedly come in defence. Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal seems far more likely than Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund to join of those rumored. With Van Gaal’s propensity to use three centre-backs, it’s clear he needs to do something with only three senior options in Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans.
With such a drastic need for depth it would seem multiple additions would need to be made to shore up the back line. But let’s not rule out the Dutchman utilizing an unheralded youth player to help fill the void left by Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Against Liverpool on Monday, United played a near full-strength lineup. The defender Van Gaal chose to add to the mix when Evans was removed at the half was Tyler Blackett. Van Gaal has a keen eye for young talent, exemplified in 2010 when he was the first to give Thomas Mueller regular first-team football at Bayern Munich.
Blackett, who has played for England at numerous youth levels but has never featured in a Premier League match, spent last season on loan with Championship side Birmingham City. Yet it appears the Van Gaal may be about to place strong faith in the 20-year-old English defender.
The former Netherlands boss also trotted out Blackett against Real Madrid on Saturday. The left footer fits will into his new gaffer’s scheme and has impressed quickly.
“He can play at this level but can he play match after match? That is the question and I cannot answer that at the moment,” said Van Gaal.
No matter at what age, when Van Gaal says you’re good, you’re good.
By Nicolas Hallett — follow on Twitter @nicolashallett