United went into pre-season friendly number five against German side VfL Wolfsburg aiming to bounce back from a disjointed performance four days prior in Mainz. Choosing to return to Newcastle in-between the two games here would have presumably given Rafa Benitez more time to work behind the scenes on much needed outgoings, additions and specific training sessions with the first Premier League visit of Spurs at home less than two weeks away. It’s pretty much given that we shouldn’t read too a lot into preseason games as quite rightly every manager stresses the essential need for match fitness as priority over match result.
That being said, with only two ‘friendly’ games left to play and a widely held opinion from most Mags that we are someway behind on signings from where Rafa would like us to be (four more was the number he was quoted after the Mikel Merino deal last week) it’s imperative that we hit the ground running on August 13th with the players already at his disposal. Catching the train from Berlin to Wolfsburg gave me plenty of time to pause and reflect on preseason so far and after seeing lots of positive soundbites from Rafa rather content from last weeks’ NINE Bar talk-in I was curious to see how he would approach this game. Wolfsburg are (no disrespect) your typical average Bundesliga club; professionally set-up, well run, sensibly financed and despite finishing a lowly 16th last season they have had recent success in 2015 (German FA Cup) and majorly in 2008/09 winning the League title under Felix Magath.
They have spent £11m more than us (£42m to our £31m) so far in this close season and boast some decent top-flight players in Mario Gomez, Ignacio Camacho and Vieirinha. Match Positives: Despite missing a great chance from a superb Matt Richie cross-field ball after 4 mins, Mitrović was involved in everything good during the 1st half he was on. Should have had a penalty on 36 mins when he was blatantly bundled down in the box by their keeper, eventually he got his goal 2mins later and his understanding with Perez, who was playing just behind, looked very smart at times today.
Javier Manquillo was quick, direct, pacey and inventive with his play which is everything I’m certain Rafa would be asking from him. More games like this and we could have a steal on our hands.
Florian Lejeune was calmly composed throughout and dealt with everything in his path, a definite starter for first game of the season.
Ciaran Clark was the same player that looked rock solid for large parts of last season and was a nice compliment to the collectedness of Lejeune. Ritchie was industrious and tenacious as ever; the stunning free-kick on 43 mins and his wonderful first-time, long range through ball to Shelvey on 69 mins that created the goal for Atsu to tap home our third was worth the €3 admission price alone.
Shelvey and Hayden’s understanding in the middle looked proper, both were putting tackles in when needed, (Shelvey of course with the obligatory rash tackle on their player Arnold on 25 mins) releasing the ball when necessary and nicely working 1-2’s around the opposition of Arnold & Guilavogui for large parts of the game. Atsu was also pacey, direct, full of running and gave both their full backs a torrid time whenever he and Ritchie swapped wings. His final ball today was a lot better than at times last season. A point to prove this season perhaps ?
Match Negatives: Not really so many negatives in all honesty but two seemed a little out of sorts. Paul Dummett looked off the stride today and arguably has done so now for a few games this preseason. The penalty conceded on 52 mins was a touch harsh but those will be given against Premier League players this season if he continues to commit himself or attempt to block players inside his own box.
The conclusion amongst many says he had a solid campaign last time around and when the big games arrived he stood up and delivered but this time around he will be facing world class players nearly every week. Mo Diame came on for Mitrović on 45 mins, was instantly played through by Perez on 46 mins and his first touch was the ball bouncing 6 yards off his shin for a goal kick. I genuinely hope this season goes well for him but we’ve really yet to catch any glimpses of the player he was for West Ham and Hull. Here is hoping this season he steps up and wants to prove some people wrong also.
Special Mention: I’m going to go massively overboard already on Merino and say he reminds me of Fernando Carlos Redondo. A cameo role of 20 mins dripping in sheer class and instantly looking like an otherworldly upgrade on Jack Colback (who didn’t feature at all today btw). Please let this kid be the real deal.
All-in-all a heartening performance going into our final preseason game to ex-NUFC radgepacket Fabio Peccia’s Hellas Verona on Sunday at St James. If we manage to get any additions in by then it would be most welcome but already the new boys showed more than encouraging signs of progress here.
Wolfsburg were two preseason games ahead of us before today but we seemed to cope easily with their energy levels and running. Spurs will no doubt be on another level completely to this but anyone with bedwetting tendencies over our recent perceived lack of desired transfer activity (my hand is up here) was given a small reminder today that we do indeed have players eager to prove a point with both a result & performance to give some optimism before the season properly begins.
Elliot, Manquillo, Lejeune, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey (c), Hayden, Atsu, Pérez, Mitrović.
Scorers: Alexamder Mitrovic (37), Matt Ritchie (43), Christian Atsu (68).
JAMIE FRY. You can follow Jamie on @tyneassociation