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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Reliable Sergio Romero keeps cool head amid Manchester United drama in Salt Lake City

Argentine, who recently signed a contract extension, introduced at half time in 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake, where Romelu Lukaku scored and Antonio Valencia was sent off

A 6ft 4in man stood in a sky blue shirt, shorts and socks against the dramatic backdrop of the 11,000-foot peaks surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah.

Argentina’s goalkeeper Sergio Romero was introduced at half time in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over three Real Salt Lake teams and kept a clean sheet.

Three? With an away game on Wednesday, the team currently ninth of in the 11-team MLS Western Conference fielded a different XI for each third of the friendly, United’s second pre-season game.

Romelu Lukaku scored his first goal for his new club after his first start.

“I think it’s just nice for him, not important for me,” said his manager, Jose Mourinho. “Before he scored the goal I told him ‘I love everything you do on the pitch. Don’t be worried about scoring or not scoring.’ He gets behind people, works and presses well. I like everything he does. It’s easy to feel it because he was my player four years ago his evolution has been great. He’s now a top striker.”

Mourinho will also be happy with the early form of Paul Pogba, playing with the confidence of a man entirely comfortable with the immense expectations on him.

Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan again looked lively when their team attacked in a 4-3-3 formation as they pressed and darted into space, providing flicks and assists.

Against the positives, Antonio Valencia provided an unwanted moment of drama as he was sent off after flattening Sebastian Saucedo, the midfielder who had forced Juan Mata to leave the field with his own errant tackle.

An unhappy Mourinho was spoken to by the referee and offered the opportunity to substitute the Ecuadorian, which he declined. Valencia was then issued a red card.

“I don’t agree with the card because I think the boy [Saucedo] was really aggressive in second half,” Mourinho said. “It’s young people with enthusiasm playing against Manchester United, but it’s a friendly match and it’s a different mentality. But it’s pre-season, so no problem. It is good experience for us to play with one player less.”

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Romero avoided the drama; he usually does. He saw his first action of the tour after sitting out in Los Angeles on Saturday. As in California, United fielded a different side for each half and the man who signed a new contract on Monday which should keep him at the club until 2021 was the third and final goalkeeper to see action.

He didn’t complain. He doesn’t complain. He is happy with his lot and values being at a club which he describes as “the biggest club in the world”.

The statistics from pre-season games mean little; but Romero’s 90th-minute save from Kyle Curinga ensured United made it two wins from two.

His stock continues to rise, but then it could hardly go down. There is a voracious appetite for every shred of United news, yet Romero’s arrival at the club was almost unnoticed in 2015 after he was booked onto a flight from Buenos Aires to San Francisco where United were playing. Also booked on were Angel di Maria and Marcos Rojo. Di Maria was about to leave United, Rojo had a mix up with a passport. Romero turned up alone, reliable and unassuming.

He is now trusted by Mourinho to start in important games such as the Europa League final. He didn’t let his side down in Stockholm.

First-choice David de Gea is one of the top three goalkeepers in the world, but Romero, 30, is the best of the second-choice stoppers, a position where United are now blessed, but one fans don’t take for granted for not every goalkeeper has been a success at Old Trafford.

“Sergio is a great goalkeeper and professional,” said Mourinho after Romero signed his new contract. “He had a good season and outstanding performances, especially in our Europa League success. Sergio deserves his contract, and for Manchester United to have Sergio and David is amazing in such an important role.”

Speculation about De Gea’s future at United ebbs and flows. The club are under no pressure to sell him and he is only likely to move if he pushes for an exit. Nobody at United wants De Gea to leave, but if he does, they have a proven, able, deputy waiting. He is just unlikely to play anywhere as dramatic as Salt Lake City.