Manchester United drew their third consecutive pre-season game of their five-game US tour, then beat AC Milan 9-8 in an epic 26 penalty shoot-out in Los Angeles.
Alexis Sanchez, Ander Herrera and Andreas Pereira were the stand-out players for Jose Mourinho’s side who will travel to Michigan to play Liverpool on Saturday in their second game of the International Champions Cup. A crowd of 109,000 watched United against Real Madrid in Michigan in 2014 and a healthy gate is anticipated on Saturday, but attendances are down across America where some of Europe’s biggest clubs are touring, this close season.
The United v Milan game was switched from the 92,000 capacity Pasadena Bowl to the 27,000 capacity home of the LA Galaxy, but the venue was still 6,000 short of capacity. The same venue was full a year ago for United’s first pre-season against an LA Galaxy reserve side a year ago.
Those who attended were not disappointed as they watched Sanchez give the English side the lead after 12 minutes as he finished a fine counter attack involving Scott McTominay and Juan Mata.
“The game was good, a good training session against a team with more time [preparing] than us, with more players than us, so was a good training session,” Mourinho said.
“We played in a system we don't play in many times, so it was a good experience, too. We made a couple of defensive mistakes but with the ball we were dangerous, especially when we were fresh. Our problem at the moment is to play for 90 minutes, but for 65 minutes we were very good.
United played their best football of the tour so far.
“We had a chance not to just score goals but beautiful goals,” added Mourinho, who praised the counter attack which led to Sanchez’s goal. Milan’s 14th equaliser came from Suso before that extended penalty shoot-out.
“In the end the penalties mean nothing but I think football fans, especially American football fans, enjoy the penalty shoot-out and was good fun,” added a now smiling Mourinho, who also explained that forward Anthony Martial has returned to Paris to attend the birth of his second child.
Despite missing nine players who had featured in the World Cup finals, Mourinho played his strongest side.
Unusually, he named Italian defender Matteo Darmian as his captain, explaining: “The captaincy because he is a fantastic guy in my two years and with Mr [Louis] Van Gaal before me. He is the kind of guy who is always ready to give what he has, he grew up in AC Milan and to play against his childhood club and be captain in a friendly has a nice meaning.”
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But there was a further explanation.
“Matteo wants to leave and I think when a player wants to leave if the right offer arrives you have to try to be human and let the player follow his instinct, but not at any price and until now the offers we got for Matteo are not even close to being accepted.”
Darmian may even be required at right-back for the first game of the season against Leicester City since Antonio Valencia is injured.
“Ashley Young, a possibility to play right back, is on holiday,” Mourinho explained. “I don't know if he fancies to be back for that and put himself to be available for the team or stay on holiday.”
Victor Lindelof has played right back for Sweden at Under 21 level.
“He is a possibility,” Mourinho said. “He isn’t a right back. He starts training next Monday and I will send people to Manchester to train with Victor.
"It makes no sense for him to come to the US. So if Matteo leaves, he leaves because the right offer arrives. And if he stays, he can be important for us.”
Mourinho will hope that Sanchez fulfils his potential after a faltering start to his time in Manchester. The Chilean, who attempted to score from a corner, was all speed, twists and turns playing as a central forward and combining well with fellow Spanish speakers Herrera and Mata.
All three will be expected to start against Liverpool on Saturday, with Mourinho emphasising the expectations on Liverpool now they have spent so much in the close season after manager Jurgen Klopp had previously cursed high transfer fees.
“I’m also happy to smile and to see that, you know, you can change your opinion and change as a person is funny,” Mourinho said. “Maybe this season finally you demand that they win [the title].”
United and Liverpool, England’s two most successful clubs, both hope to challenge for a title Liverpool last won 28 years ago. United have now gone five seasons without the league, but Mourinho knows he is not the only one under pressure to mount a serious title challenge this year.