Leeds Utd 0
Manchester United 2 (Emeran 66, Hugill 81)
12th July 2023, Pre-season friendly.
First-half team: Klaesson, Drameh, Cooper, Mullen, Hjelde, Shackleton, Gyabi, Greenwood, Poveda, Sinisterra, Rutter.
Second-half team: Van den Hueval, Ayling, Moore, Struijk, Drameh, Bate, Gray, James, Joseph, Gelhardt, Bamford.
I thought I’d pen a few notes on this game, just to get back in the saddle really. But what is there to say? To read anything into the players, formations, result, etc. etc. would be to massively overstate the occasion. It was a good run out for the players, a chance to feel a full stadium again, a chance for them to do a bit of bonding with each other, and a chance to get to know Dan Farke a bit more.
If I was to pass comment on anything, it would only be the blindingly obvious; we need a few new faces, a few quality players in a few key positions… pretty much as we did throughout last season, indeed we need more than we did if we are to lose any of our star men Rodrigo already gone of course. We tried in both transfer windows to find the players we needed but a seeming scattergun approach just didn’t find us enough first-team ready, Premier League quality, players; a couple, but not enough, especially when you really need to factor in possible injuries. I’m still almost certain that, had Tyler Adams and Max Wober not been injured at critical moments at the back end of last season we’d have still been in the top flight now. I know you can’t have equivalent players sat on their arses on the bench every week, but you do need to have quality enough to get through if your best are missing.
Other than that the trip was a decent one. Oslo is a lovely, relaxed sort of a place with a typical waterfront set-up and enough visitor attractions to keep you going for three or four days. The stadium was relatively modern, 28,000 capacity and the seats and view of the game were fine. It was disappointing that three sides, possibly more, of the stadium were full of folk following Man United and I can only assume that was down to the amount of tickets they set aside for each team. I’m sure we could have sold way more than we were given and hence why ours were all sold out but only filled a slice at the one end. That ticket allocation probably reflected the Norwegian fan base for each side. Leeds are said to have official club members of around 8,000 based in Scandinavia whereas Man United have (apparently) 48,000. Those Man United fans were slightly unusual too – sat down all the time and politely applauded any good moves on the pitch from their players!
Leeds did well to hold a strong Man United side in the first half with the closest the Reds got being a fabulous close range, one-handed block by Kristoffer Klaesson to deny Hannibal Mejbri, right in front of the Leeds fans, and then a Mason Mount lob that just beat the crossbar after he’d robbed Jeremiah Mullen. At the other end, we saw a glimpse of the silky skills of Luis Sinisterra as he got down the left and looked to have set up Ian Poveda but Mejbri did brilliantly to intercept before Poveda could strike. Rutter started that move and had a hand in another similar run minutes later as he fired a cross wide of the right post from the left with the stretching Sam Greenwood just failing to get a toe to it. There were some nice moments from Rutter in this game.
An almost completely new Leeds team came out for the second half with only Cody Drameh keeping his place albeit he switched from right back to left, highlighting yet again how, months on, we still haven’t found a long-term solution to that number ‘3’ slot. Leeds now had three strikers on the pitch – Gelhardt, Joseph, and Bamford - with Dan James as a wide man. Manchester United changed all eleven of their players and now had a much more inexperienced side on the pitch. Hence, for a while, Leeds were on top but couldn’t find a decent finish, something else that reminded me very much of where we’d struggled last season. Our best chance came from Pascal Struijk with a header at a corner but somehow he headed well wide. Patrick Bamford broke the line once and rounded the keeper but still didn’t score as a weak shot was blocked on the line by a defender; Bamford may have been offside.
Eventually, the Reds got to grips with the pacey and lively Leeds forwards and they showed us how to finish with a couple of goals but it was familiar Leeds failings that gave up the chances. Pascal Struijk failed to control an interception, letting the ball get away and suddenly Man United threaded the ball through our back line and Emeran slid the ball through the diving Van den Hueval who should probably have done better. It was often like that last season, doing OK in a game and then a couple of mistakes and the quality of the opposition punishes us every time.
We saw a flash of what Archie Gray can do then as he latched onto a clearance after a poor cross from Dan James was knocked away. Archie simply put his laces through the ball and just missed the top left corner with his left-foot shot. Back down the other end and a quick break and some more naïve defending from Leeds saw the ball arrive on the right foot of Joe Hugill, completely unmarked and he slid it into the corner.
After the game, Daniel Farke alluded to the errors saying “Sadly there were one or two individual errors in the defence and this changed the momentum”.
So, early days, but my overriding reflection is that we need more quality than we had on display here. For me there didn’t appear to be any sign that Patrick Bamford has got his confidence back, Dan James looked wasteful with his crosses now and again, Pascal made a few errors, all things we’ve seen too often before. Positives? Georginio made a few good interceptions and passes but was it enough? Klaesson looked pretty secure in goal if he is to play a bigger role this year. Luke Ayling seems to have lost none of his verve and Liam Cooper looked solid for his 45 minutes. Cody Drameh, I’m still unsure about but first half he looked assured and it’s unfair to judge him without a regular defence next to him. Lewis Bate and Archie Gray will be top players but is it too soon for them yet? Again I’m not sure.
Overall, we need more quality around the pitch, a few reliable, match-ready players who will make fewer mistakes and give us consistent performances. Throw them into the squad and we can probably find an eleven to do us justice in the Championship.