ANN ARBOR, MICH. – It was billed as possibly being the largest soccer crowd in the history of the United States. And it didn’t disappoint.
In front of 109,318 fans at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., travelers from around the world that had descended on the town that houses the University of Michigan were treated to a spectacle that never had the feel of a pre-season warm-up match. As a part of the Guinness International Champions Cup, Manchester United were 3-1 winners over Real Madrid Saturday, advancing to the Guinness International Champions Cup Final Monday night at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Even though it was said in the days leading up to the match that Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn’t be available for the match, fans still got what they wanted, even if he only played for the final 15 minutes of the match. Ronaldo dazzled when he had the ball at his feet and the cell phone flashes were aplenty with many of the fans getting their very first glimpse in person of the Portuguese star.
It should be said that United fielded a much stronger side than Madrid could have. Players like Fabio Coentrao, Sami Khedira, Raphael Varane, Marcelo and Angel Di Maria were all deemed unavailable for the match. On the other side, it was the likes of Rafael, Chris Smalling and Nani who were the only ones either unavailable or didn’t feature.
From the start, it was United dominating the run of play. Through the first 10 minutes of the match, they were more composed and possessed the ball much better than Madrid. Specifically, the striking partnership of Wayne Rooney and Denny Welbeck, along with the involvement of Juan Mata playing behind them worked really well together.
United were able to strike first on some beautiful build-up play. Antonio Valencia played a ball to Fletcher down the right-hand side, who then used Wayne Rooney for a clever one-two, before a cross fell to Welbeck atop the 18-yard box. But, instead of shooting, he made the extra pass to a wide-open Ashley Young who beat Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas to the near post, making it 1-0.
But, just a few minutes later halfway through the first half, Gareth Bale began what would turn out to be a day-long clinic on United defender Michael Keane, beating him around the edge with pure speed and drawing a penalty just on the inside of the box. Bale stepped up and made United goalkeeper David De Gea guess the wrong way, easily converting to level things 1-1.
Before the break, Ashley Young used one of the many Louis van Gaal long balls in the game, attempting to try and find the head of Wayne Rooney. Rooney and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos both made an attempt to win the ball, but neither could get a touch on it. Casillas, anticipating a touch from either Rooney or Ramos, was out of position, and Young’s cross innocently found the back of the net, giving United a 2-1 lead heading into the break.
Real Madrid had a much better start to the second half, with Bale shouldering most of the attacking responsibilities. Young Spanish midfielder Isco also showed flashes of why Madrid thought highly enough of him to bring him aboard from Málaga in Jaunary 2013 for €35 million. The combination of Bale and Isco in the attack provided some relief for the back line, but it didn’t produce any goals. Ronaldo entered the match in the 74th minute, sending the crowd into a tizzy. However, no matter what Madrid tried, not much was getting through the United defense.
The addition of Javier Hernandez seemed to give the match another jolt of energy, making his runs in behind the back line as he loves to do. And sure enough, a ball from substitute Shinji Kagawa got in behind and Hernandez was waiting there to bury it in the back of the net, making it 3-1.
United was much the better team in Ann Arbor. The former Netherlands boss’ system at Manchester is really beginning to take hold and you’re seeing what type of effect it’s having. Darren Fletcher was bright and calm on the ball, distributing at a very high clip; Wayne Rooney was craving the ball up top; and Ashley Young, while making sure to include is patented diving exhibition once in a while, was able to finish when called upon.
Youngster Jesse Lingard, a 21-year-old who spent time on loan with Brighton & Hove Albion last season, is one name you may want to remember in the future. Another loan spell in the Championship this season would do him well the Englishman showed flashes of an up-and-coming winger.
Michigan Stadium is now in the record books for hosting the largest soccer match in U.S. history with attention now shifting to Monday’s final between United and rivals Liverpool.
Manchester United – David De Gea; Phil Johns, Jonny Evans (Tyler Blackett, 45’), Michael Keane; Ashley Young (Luke Shaw, 45’), Darren Fletcher, Ander Herrera (Tom Cleverley, 45’), Juan Mata (Shinji Kagawa, 62’), Antonio Valencia (Jesse Lingard, 62’); Danny Welbeck (Wilfried Zaha, 43’), Wayne Rooney (Javier Hernandez, 62’).
Real Madrid – Iker Casillas; Alvaro Arbeloa (Cristiano Ronaldo, 74’), Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Nacho Fernandez, Daniel Carvajl; Xabi Alonso (Raul de Tomas, 56’), Luka Modric, Isco, Asier Illarramendi; Gareth Bale
The 2014 International Champions Cup is sponsored by Guinness. You can follow Guinness on Twitter at @GuinnessUS.