By Nathan Thomas.
Chicago Fire 1
Manchester United 3
Rooney (66), Rafael (76), Nani (88)
Soldier Field, Chicago, 23/7/2011, 4pm KO (US Time)
The score line may not have been as impressive as last time out on the US Tour but the importance of this fixture cannot be underplayed as for the first time in America the Reds were made to sweat for their victory. On what was a surface far from what United are used to Chicago matched United stride for stride until midway through the second half the when Reds grasped the initiative and sealed victory through well taken goals from Wayne Rooney, Rafael Da Silva and Nani. Cory Gibbs had given the Fire a first half lead Sir Alex Ferguson will be pleased in the manner in which United came back, despite the sweltering conditions encountered in Illinois.
As previously promised Ferguson used this game to hand debut’s to new signings Phil Jones and goalkeeper David de Gea, with the spotlight falling particularly on de Gea who it appears is now in a straight shoot out with Dane Anders Lindegaard for the number one spot. Sir Alex also brought in late arrivals Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck for their first start of the tour.
Man United’s youthful outfit started slowly, understandable given the astronomical temperatures however this did not stop Gabriel Obertan, making his first start of the tour testing his marker on numerous occasions and almost setting up Berbatov for an early chance. It was on a separate occasion that the Bulgarian almost opened the scoring for United, played in by the Reds stand out player in the first half Danny Welbeck, Berbatov charged through but could only hit his shot straight at the keeper.
After an impressive loan stint at Sunderland Welbeck certainly made great in roads as he tries to shape his career at Old Trafford, starting up front with Berbatov but interchanging with Mame Biram Diouf on the left the England international showed some nifty touches and great pace. He looks much more an imposing physical specimen than he did the last time he wore a United shirt and he could be a prominent feature this season.
Just as United were seemingly taking control of the game there was a jolt to the system as Chicago Fire, against the run of play, scored the opener. Cory Gibbs exploited some uncertain defending by Smalling and Jones and climbed above them both to plant a fine header into the top corner leaving de Gea with no chance, the crowd went wild as United’s defence looked around at each other with confusion, game on.
Chicago took a lot of confidence from their opening goal and tested United on a number of occasions in the remainder of the first half including one chance of note which forced de Gea into a wonderful reaction save which was the only time the young Spaniard was tested in the first half, the sign of a great stopper. With energy sapped the half drew to a fairly un-thrilling end and the Reds exited the field of play trailing their opposition for the first time on the tour.
Determined to change that Sir Alex made his customary raft of substitutions bringing on Jonny Evans, Ryan Giggs, Anderson, Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park which saw Fabio, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Mame-Biram Diouf exit proceedings. United almost drew level immediately, the effervescent Ryan Giggs showing no signs of slowing down again controlled the midfield beautifully, his chip picked out the advancing Smalling who had been shifted to right back. Smalling showed a great first touch and then lashed the ball across the keeper, off the post, in the net. The only thing that could stop Smalling was the linesman who had adjudged Smalling to be in an offside position, replays concurred with his view. Overall it was Fire who started the brightest missing a number of guilt edge changes which could have realistically put the home side three to the good before United fashioned another chance of note. It came through substitute Macheda, who, picked out by the impressive Rooney was forced wide by the Fire defence, rather than turning back Kiko opted to shoot but the right angle proved too much and his shot was easily saved.
The hour mark came and went and with it came more substitutions, along with Macheda came Rio Ferdinand and Nani. Surprisingly though it was Ferdinand and not Nani who provided the killer pass to carve out United’s breakthrough. Bringing the ball out of defence with renewed vigour Ferdinand played a defence splitting lofted ball over the heads of the Chicago defenders and picked out Wayne Rooney who let the ball bounce and then lifted the ball in beautifully for the Reds equaliser. It was a finish of the highest order, as was the pass, one of which even Paul Scholes would have been proud of and one suspects this is exactly what Ferdinand was telling Rooney as the two laughed during the celebrations.
With the initiative well and truly in the hands of United, the Reds had to endure one final scare before really pummelling home their quality. Midfielder Pappa beat Ferdinand before stinging a shot toward United’s goal which beat de Gea, however it also beat the net and fortunately crashed into the side netting as Chicago’s home support cheered, thinking the ball had gone in. Their joy was to be short lived as only forty-seven seconds after United had made their final two substitutions in the shape of Vidic and Rafael the Brazilian livewire charged up the right wing, received the ball from the ever involved Rooney, embarked on a nice one-two with Nani, muscled out his man and then prodded a lovely finish through the legs of Fire goalkeeper Conway. It was a brilliant goal and one that the Reds deserved after a fine second half showing.
The scoring wasn’t done either, Portuguese winger Nani had come on and had looked dangerous from the offset, however he was clearly keen to open his account for the tour after an impressive goal scoring record last season. Collecting the ball on the right Nani drove forward and pushed his man back, getting to the edge of the area he attempted to play a ball square to Rooney however the ball ricocheted off a Chicago defender and fell conveniently back into his path. The first half of the goal may have had a tinge of fortune about it but the second showcased the brilliance of Nani who waited for the keeper to go down before executing a lovely lofted finish beyond Conway.
Some may have felt the 3-1 score line was harsh on Chicago and on another day had they had their shooting boots on the score could have been very different but the Reds looked fresh, sharp and coped well with the heat. Nani’s back flip celebration after he notched United’s third goal surely mirrors the mood of the camp at the moment.
United: De Gea; Fabio (Evans 46), Smalling (Rafael 75), Jones (Vidic 75), Evra (Ferdinand 56); Obertan (Nani 56), Carrick (Anderson 46), Cleverley (Giggs 46), Diouf (Park 46); Welbeck (Macheda 56), Berbatov (Rooney 46)
Subs not used: Lindegaard, Amos, Owen, Young
Goals: Rooney, Rafael, Nani
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