Though preseason matches mean little more than global marketing fodder, they do present a mouth-watering opportunity to scout transfer purchases and how the new additions will fit in with their squads.
Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera were the debutants for Manchester United on Wednesday night as they played a friendly against LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer.
United breezed past the Americans and scored seven times in the process — and came away from the one-sided exhibition with memories of the glittering performance of Herrera.
But first, quickly on Shaw. The 18-year-old Englishman lined up as the left wingback in a five-man defense, a feature it appears Louis Van Gaal will carry over from his 3rd place-campaign at the 2014 World Cup with the Netherlands. Shaw played only the first half and did little good or bad.
Multiple times he chose to pass rather than taking on his secluded defender. It would be churlish to judge Shaw here, but the jury remains out on how exactly he’ll be used in Manchester. It’s likely that a film of Daley Blind’s performance in Brazil provides the blueprint.
As for the 24-year-old Spaniard, the long story short is that it already appears that Ander Herrera is set to have a long and successful career in England.
For those of us that haven’t had a chance to take in the matches of his former employer Athletic Bilbao, this was the first opportunity to see Herrera in live action. It was stupendous.
On the day, Herrera was unquestionably United’s best player. His style — a complete center midfielder with superb passing skills, energy and enough shimmying to make space — is exactly what the Reds have lacked, not only last season, but since Paul Scholes was in his prime.
Speaking of legendary central midfielders, it is not hyperbolic to best describe Herrera as a mix between Scholes and Roy Keane. The only characteristic he seems to lack compared to those two is a hard-tackling nature.
Based on the tactics used by United, it would seem Herrera’s new manager already knows what he has in the young starlet. Van Gaal played arguably United’s strongest first eleven against the Galaxy and made nine changes at halftime. Herrera and Darren Fletcher, who captained the side, were the only two Red Devils to remain on the pitch after the break.
In his first game with a new team, a new coach, a new system and a new country, Herrera played a crucial role or the final pass in five of United’s seven goals.
“This guy is real. This guy is very, very good,” gushed FOX Sports analyst and former United States national team star Eric Wynalda. “It looks like United have made quite the find.”
Herrera plays with his head up and a posture of confidence. It’s apparent vision is one of his best attributes. He wants the ball all the time. One eye-catching skill of his on this viewing was how quickly he releases the ball; his passes leave his feet with velocity but never seem to overpower his teammates.
Running forward with the ball at his feet is also something the midfield man wasn’t afraid to do. In fact, he did it quite often, making his passing all the more dangerous. When the score was 0-0, Herrera offered the first real chance of the game with a blistering shot from about 25 yards out that was tipped over the bar at the last moment. Is there nothing this kid can’t do?
Many may have compared Herrera to a holding midfielder willing to sit back and spray passes, like say Mikel Arteta, but this claim appears unfounded as Herrera seems to have a real aggressive streak about him when he’s going forward.
The geography-friendly combination of Juan Mata and Herrera is enticing. The two linked up in the first half and displayed chemistry. With United’s strikeforce making runs in behind and giving them space to work, it’s unclear how any clubs will figure a way to cope with the potent duo.
Again, with United previewing their ideal starting lineup — sans Robin Van Persie — the only glaring hole appears to be a strong and leggy defensive midfielder behind Mata and Herrera.
What is evident at present is the stunning potential of Herrera and what he may be able to unleash now that he’s at one of the globe’s best clubs and surrounded by top talent.
Even in a class that includes Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Alexis Sanchez, don’t be surprised if by season’s end Herrera is considered to be the best acquisition throughout the Premier League.
Here’s video highlights of Manchester United’s 7-0 victory against LA Galaxy: