Manchester United concluded Tour 2017, presented by Aon, with a late win over Sampdoria at a sold-out Aviva Stadium in Dublin, as Nemanja Matic made his unofficial debut.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s third goal of pre-season gave the Reds an early lead, while Matic impressed in a combative first-half appearance in midfield. And, after Dennis Praet equalised for the Italian outfit in the second half, substitute Juan Mata netted the 81st-minute clincher.
United’s opener came in the ninth minute. After David De Gea had been forced to handle Daley Blind’s misplaced backpass on his line to prevent an own goal, the United wall blocked an indirect Sampdoria free-kick from six yards and the Reds broke at pace, with Mkhitaryan heading home Matteo Darmian’s left-wing cross from close range.
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Fabio Quagliarella met a ball over the top with a first-time volley that drifted narrowly over De Gea’s crossbar in a rare Sampdoria foray forward, before Christian Puggioni’s instinctive save prevented Mkhitaryan from doubling his and United’s account with a header, and Romelu Lukaku curled narrowly wide from the right side of the box.
Jose Mourinho made four changes at the break, with Matic among those to make way, and a further six in the second period as he once again ensured game-time for most of his players.
Ander Herrera thought he’d got on the scoresheet after lashing home fellow substitute Marouane Fellaini’s knockdown but he was flagged offside and, moments later, Praet slotted in the Italians’ leveller after Chris Smalling’s clearance fell to him on the edge of the box.
United pressed for a winner, with Puggioni clinging on to Herrera’s header after a lightning break down the left by Anthony Martial, but the second goal was not long in coming as, nine minutes from time, Mata sidefooted home Martial’s cross. And only a double save by substitute keeper Andrea Tozzo, from Herrera and Marcus Rashford, prevented the Reds from adding a third.
United: De Gea (J.Pereira 76); Lindelof (Jones 76), Smalling (Bailly 77), Blind (Martial 60); Valencia, Matic (Carrick 46), A.Pereira (Fellaini 46), Pogba (Herrera 46), Darmian (Tuanzebe 77); Mkhitaryan (Mata 46), Lukaku (Rashford 60).
Sampdoria: Puggioni (Tozzo 86), Jacopo (Bereszynski 76), Silvestre, Regini, Pavlovic (Murru 66), Torreira (Capezzi 86), Barreto (Djuricic 75), Linetty (Alvarez 66), Praet (Verre 75), Quagliarella (Kownacki 86), Caprari (Bonazzoli 76).
TALKING POINT: MATIC’S BOW
Matic had not played in any of Chelsea’s pre-season games and admitted in his first interview with MUTV that he was “not 100 per cent ready”, but you wouldn’t have known it from his maiden outing in the United shirt. The Serbian cruised around the midfield, screening United’s back three and regularly shouting instructions to his team-mates in a controlled, promising 45-minute outing that Mourinho hopes will “accelerate his process” ahead of the new campaign. He even took time to check on a fan in the front row after she was hit by the ball.
United’s following in Dublin and across the Republic of Ireland is legendary and there were thousands of fans milling around the Aviva Stadium hours before kick-off, wearing all manner of kits from over the years, with hundreds more supporters arriving at regular intervals by train at the adjacent Lansdowne Road station. And the whole stadium was a sea of red as United won for the second time on this ground, after taking part in its inaugural football match in August 2010, against a League of Ireland XI.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UNITED?
That’s it for pre-season. The seven-game Tour 2017 is over and attentions now turn to the first competitive action of 2017/18, the UEFA Super Cup showpiece against European champions Real Madrid in Skopje, Macedonia next Tuesday, which comes barely two weeks after the sides met in California. Mourinho’s men came through that one on penalties – here’s to another successful outcome in the Philip II Stadium.