Louis van Gaal’s flying start as Manchester United manager continued last night as goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard sealed the International Champions Cup for the Red Devils, giving van Gaal his first piece of silverware in charge at Old Trafford, as futile as the pre-season tournament may be.
It was Liverpool who struck first with an early Steven Gerrard penalty, but two goals in as many minutes shortly after the interval put United firmly in control, before young Lingard sealed the victory in the closing stages of the match.
The match, held at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami, may have only been a friendly by name, but a contest between the two most successful sides in England is never friendly by nature, and there is no doubt that van Gaal will be delighted with the victory over United’s greatest rival.
He said after the match, “It’s nice to win for the fans here and at home, it’s not our favorite opponent and we have given a lot of pleasure to our fans. This though in the end means nothing. Swansea City and the start of the Premier League is the most important game for us. The momentum though will help us for sure.”
Although the result of this pre-season friendly mattered very little, as both managers made sure to point out prior to the game, two strong sides were selected by Rodgers and van Gaal as they looked to strike a possible psychological blow before the season had even started.
Liverpool controlled possession for the majority of the first half, with United looking incredibly sloppy in possession, but it was van Gaal’s side who had the first opportunity of the game when Ashley Young’s cross was met at the back post by Javier Hernandez, only for the Mexican to miscue whilst stretching for the ball, allowing Liverpool to clear their lines.
A few minutes later, Liverpool took the lead as Phil Jones clumsily felled Raheem Sterling in the box, with a rash and ill-thought challenge, and Steven Gerrard made no mistake from the ensuing spot kick, sending David De Gea the wrong way.
Despite the set-back, United still struggled to get into gear, with continued lethargy in their passing resulting in a complete lack of attacking threat. Liverpool went close again as Phillipe Coutinho forced a save from De Gea, but the score remained 1-0 as the teams went in at the break.
Liverpool continued on the front foot in the second half, as a mistake by Ander Herrera in midfield, who otherwise had a strong game, allowed Gerrard to play through Rickie Lambert. The ex-Southampton man scuffed his shot, however, and De Gea was easily able to save. Not long after, Lambert was made to pay as Rooney put the ball in the back of the Liverpool net, connecting with a Javier Hernandez cross on the volley, expertly guiding the ball past Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
The joy on Rooney’s face was clear to see, despite the meaningless nature of the tie, and United’s celebrations were barely finished when the ball ended in the back of the net again. This time, Luke Shaw picked out Juan Mata on the edge of the area, and via a helpful deflection off Mamadou Sakho, the ball found its way past Mignolet once again.
The game was briefly put in controversy as the officials seemingly allowed Rooney to score into an unguarded net after the ball had appeared to have gone out of play, but the referee, after consulting the fourth official, possibly also with the help of the replay on the big screen in the stadium, eventually ruled it out.
A deep cross from Ashley Young had gone over the goal, hit the stanchion and bounced back into play, with the officials mistaking the stanchion for the crossbar, but the huge smile on Rooney’s face after tapping the ball home perhaps gave it all away.
Nevertheless, United continued to bomb forward, and their efforts were rewarded in the dying seconds when substitute Jesse Lingard skilfully drilled home from 20 yards, a fine goal to complete a fine tournament.