Louis van Gaal hailed the more than “300,000 fans” Manchester United have already played before in their four games so far on their tour of America as they swept into Monday’s final of the International Champions Cup in Miami against Liverpool. While Van Gaal described the 18-day trip as “preparation” to dampen expectation, this convincing win over Real Madrid also ensures the new manager remains unbeaten. He said: “It’s preparation time. So, also, for the opponents its preparation. You’ve seen [Cristiano] Ronaldo arriving in the 75th minute. We also miss players like [Marouane] Fellaini, [Adnan] Januzaj, [Robin] van Persie – so you cannot say: ‘OK, so we’ll beat every team.’ But of course it’s a very good result for us and it gives confidence to all the players. So we are going the right way I think. This was before a packed 109,318 fans in Michigan Stadium – aka the Big House, for obvious reasons – in an encounter worth up to $20m (£11.9m) to the local economy and which was broadcast live to over 40 nations. The attendance was a record for a “soccer” game stateside, beating the 101,799 who saw the 1984 Olympic gold medal decider at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, in a result that ensures the stakeholders dream final.
The competition organisers – the Premier League, Major League Soccer and the US Soccer Federation – would all hope for a box-office encounter between two behemoths of the global game that would maintain the exponential growth of football, which is the bottom line for events like these.
The showpiece match was news to Van Gaal, who said: “It’s Liverpool in the final? OK, thank you. It’s also good for English football and very important that two teams from the Premier League will play in the final but also for them it is preparation time. It doesn’t say anything but it is better to win than lose.”
Despite Van Gaal’s objections regarding how the tour is impacting on his ability to ready the players, he appears to be warming to it. “It’s amazing,” the Dutchman said of the mammoth Big House capacity. “Yesterday when I was asked why Manchester United are here I gave sporting reasons and great clubs in this tournament and the commercial activities. But I forgot to say that within 14 days we have played for more than 300,000 fans. We also had the chance to meet the American fans of course. These are very good points.”
If Van Gaal does oversee a win over Liverpool it would mean a trophy within three weeks of officially taking over, though he is unsure if this would be the quickest trophy of a glittering career. “I don’t know I also won the Taylor Com Cup in Germany, the Super Cup in Germany and the Netherlands. But the impact of this tour is bigger than the Taylor Com Cup or the Super Cup in the Netherlands. We are here.
“I think that in the news all over the world the broadcasters will show the first goal. It was a fantastic goal. All the team has touched the ball I think.”
That had arrived after 21 minutes in a slick sequence that ended in four smart passes that allowed Ashley Young to score the opener. Darren Fletcher prodded the ball to Wayne Rooney for the latter to engineer a one-two with the Scot. He played in Danny Welbeck who recycled the ball to Young, who slotted home.
Javier Hernández ensured United’s match with Liverpool with an 80th-minute finish that came when United’s standout performer, Fletcher, fed Shinji Kagawa, who curled in a cross from which the Mexican scored.
While each time Ronaldo, who made an appearance despite Carlo Ancelotti claiming he would not because of a post-World Cup break, touched the ball the crowd cheered, what mattered here was the way United impressed throughout.
Van Gaal chose what has emerged as close to his first-choice XI on the tour. Only the injured Chris Smalling and a Luke Shaw who is struggling for fitness missed out, meaning that Michael Keane and Young started at centre-back and left wingback, respectively.
The remainder of the side had David de Gea as the goalkeeper, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans alongside Keane, Fletcher and Ander Herrera as the dedicated midfielders, Antonio Valencia as right wingback, with Juan Mata the No10, and Rooney and Welbeck as strikers.
This gang impressed throughout the opening 45 minutes, until Welbeck was replaced near half-time with a knee problem.
As the break neared Young appeared to have a second. He curled in a cross aimed towards Rooney, who appeared not to touch the ball but, in doing so, wrong-footed Iker Casillas and the ball went into the net. The PA announcer credited Rooney.
With Keane mugged by Gareth Bale in the incident that won a penalty which the Welshman converted, later Van Gaal offered an assessment of the young defender and Tyler Blackett, who entered at the break.
“They can do the job but they cannot do the job for a lot of matches,” he said. “They can do it for one match and maybe when you give them more the experience will increase. Today you have also seen that the penalty was not so smart. He has to learn from these errors I think. The same goes for Tyler.”
Van Gaal’s band now move on to Florida for the fifth state and match of this trip. A win over Liverpool will make the long flight home particularly sweet.