The good news is that Jose Mourinho still has five games and 21 days to knock Manchester United into shape. This was the first match of pre-season and we know not to get carried away just yet.
However, the United manager admits he is ‘worried’ about the new campaign and that’s understandable. Reinforcements are on the way – 12 World Cup stars and Alexis Sanchez – but not soon enough for Mourinho’s liking.
Most of them will not be available when United start the season at home to Leicester City at Old Trafford on August 10. He will have to lean heavily on the current group, and there is clearly still a lot of work to be done.
United managed to draw the opening game of their US tour in Phoenix against a Club America side further on in their preparation ahead of the start of the Mexican League season on Sunday. There are four more games on this trip plus a friendly against Bayern Munich, and then that will be that.
Perhaps more surprising here was the size of the crowd. The 64,000-seater University of Phoenix Stadium was just over half full, providing further evidence that United are no longer a guaranteed sell-out Stateside – especially when the tour organisers were charging up to £160 for the best seats here. At least the roof was closed and the air conditioning at full blast to shield the players from the suffocating desert heat.
Mourinho had little choice but to go with his strongest available line-up: Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw in defence, in front of debutant goalkeeper Lee Grant. Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay in midfield. Mata and Anthony Martial in attack. Six of the seven teenagers in the tour party starting on the bench.
It could, as the United manager pointed out beforehand, be quite close to the team that kicks off the season against Leicester. Sanchez is on his way from Manchester, and David De Gea, Nemanja Matic and Fred will fly out to join the tour next week. All four of those players could face Leicester, taking the place of Grant, Andreas Pereira, McTominay and Demitri Mitchell.
‘The line-up has the most possible, I would say men, because the objective is to prepare them the best we can for the start of the season,’ said Mourinho. ‘We don’t have many more players than this one.
‘Valencia, Smalling, Bailly and Shaw, they are probably the ones to start the season. We have Matic and Fred coming next week, so in there we have more solutions. We have Mata, Mitchell, Martial. Sanchez is coming but we don’t have many more solutions for the start of the season.’
Still, United made a positive start in their new home kit, with Martial causing the Mexicans plenty of problems in the first half. He has reached a crossroads in his Old Trafford career after a frustrating season that resulted in him missing out on France’s World Cup winning squad and his agent indicating that he wants to leave.
It remains to be seen how the sometimes surly Frenchman handles the situation, but he certainly looked keen to impress here. There were nine minutes on the clock when Valencia took on three players down the right and sent in a low cross to Martial who turned and went down rather theatrically under minimal contact from Edson Alvarez. Referee Kevin Scott’s decision was no penalty, and it was the correct one.
Mitchell and Mata then combined well on the edge of the box, and Herrera touched the ball to Martial who curled it over, before forcing a good save from Augustin Marchesin nine minutes later.
His last effort of the half came a minute before the interval when he was fouled 20 yards out. Penalty kick, flashed up on the scoreboard, but it was only a freekick and Martial sent it narrowly over.
United’s best attempt of the half actually came from Mata who wriggled into the box in the 15th minute and fired through a club of Club America players. It beat Marchesin but not the post, coming back off the foot of the upright.
Grant was hardly busy on his debut at the other end, but he had to produce a smart save to deny Paul Aguilar before making way for Joel Pereira at half-time.
Pereira immediately found himself under more pressure from the Mexicans. Smalling produced an excellent block to prevent an almost certain goal in the 52nd minute, and then Roger Martinez went through with only the United keeper to beat but Pereira stuck out a foot to keep the ball out.
He was unable to rescue United again when Club America went ahead in the 59th minute, however. Not enough pressure was applied to Antonio Lopez when he took possession of the ball on the left flank, and he floated a cross into the box. It found Henry Martin unmarked between Smalling and Bailly, and he rose to guide a firm header past Pereira.
That was the cue for Mourinho to send on Matteo Darmian and then the kids, including 16-year-old Mason Greenwood. It was one of them, Tahith Chong, who crowned a lively appearance off the bench in the second half by providing the cross which led to United’s equaliser in the 78th minute.
Andreas Pereira met it with a diving header that came back off the post, and the ball ran for Mata whose first-time shot somehow found its way past hapless substitute goalkeeper Oscar Jimenez.
It saved United from defeat on a night when the scoreline wasn’t overly important. It soon will be, though, and Mourinho won’t sleep any easier as United headed straight back to their hotel base in LA.