United continued a gruelling pre-season with a trip to Munich to take part in the Audi Cup, a tournament requiring two matches in two days against a higher quality of opposition than seen previously this close season. A tournament boasting such illustrious opponents as Bayern, Milan and Boca Juniors was the ideal tonic to achieve some much needed sharpness.
The opening match against Boca saw Sir Alex Ferguson field a blend of experience and youth in a side which saw Federico Macheda and Craig Cathcart both earning a start in the Allianz Arena along with the new Ecuadorian, ex-Wigan winger Antonio Valencia making his debut. Tomasz Kuszczak was present in goal, Wes Brown was given a start and Macheda was partnered with Wayne Rooney – again keeping Michael Owen and Rooney apart, something which the boss has done consistently across all United’s warm up games.
After early dominance by Boca, the deadlock was broken from the unlikeliest of sources. Following a foul on Valencia, United were awarded a free-kick on the right corner of the penalty area. Anderson stepped up and curled the ball beautifully into the keeper’s top right-hand corner in off the angle. It was his first ever goal for the Red Devils after two barren seasons and provided a delight to all those travelling support making the most of their Bavarian expedition (albeit the Brazilian’s strike not in official competition still). Valencia was a constant thorn in the Boca side playing an orthodox winger’s role not seen on the right-hand side of United’s midfield since the rampaging Russian Andrei Kanchelskis. He combined pace and power with an ever willingness to run at the full-back and cross into the box and it wasn’t long until he was opening his United account along with Anderson. Picking up a Rooney square pass he dropped his shoulder twice past a Boca defender and fired low and hard. Granted the Argentine between the sticks let it slide poorly under his body but the first-half performance from Valencia really deserved the goal. Much has been said regarding his poor goal-scoring record at Wigan, but Fergie knows that this can be eradicated at United. The Scotsman was quoted saying the following:
“When we assess the individual parts of his game, his athleticism and the power in his shooting, then why should he not score more goals? Maybe the way we play will give him more opportunities to score so therefore we expect more goals from him.”
It is no doubt that the hole left by Cristiano Ronaldo requires a replacement in the playing staff but it also requires existing players and new recruits alike to add to the goal tally. A goal apiece by Anderson and Valencia in a 2-0 win will hopefully go some way to developing some goal-scoring confidence from midfield.
The second of the games in Munich saw a much-changed United face the hosts Bayern after they hammered a poor Milan side 4-1. A drab 0-0 draw saw both Owen and Rooney miss almost identical chances, Owen hitting the keeper and Rooney blazing over. The Germans eventually won in the penalty shoot-out, surprise surprise, with Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans missing for the Reds.
United are up against the Spanish side Valencia this week in their first pre-season match back at Old Trafford allowing Fergie to run the rule once again over another midfield player – David Silva – who has been linked with a summer move to either Old Trafford or Anfield. There is no doubt that Sir Alex is pleased with United’s Valencia but another addition to his wide midfield ranks may still be required. Silva is someone who has interested United greatly for a couple of seasons but his unwillingness to leave Spain may yet prove a stumbling block. Another United transfer target who may prefer Spain is Frank Ribery. According to sources, once the Frenchman’s release clause is triggered in a couple of weeks United will be able to sign him for £35m – a price that they would be more than willing to pay. Ribery, as is usually the case when a player is attracting much interest from elsewhere, is injured and watched the Audi Cup from the directors box behind Bobby Charlton – although little can be read into this.
Following the tournament it is clear Ferguson will be demanding more goals from his midfield with Anderson and Valencia both staking early claims. What remains to be seen is whether Ferguson is truly happy with the goal tally that he feels the midfield will provide or whether he will again turn to established transfer targets with an already established goal-scoring pedigree. With just under a month to go before the transfer deadline closes it is not inconceivable another midfielder will be added to the squad.