Welcome to our first Q&A of the season — the first of many interrogations where we get the perspective of our enemy, nab an inside look of their team, and scrutinize their confidence levels.
To help us set the stage for tonight’s match, we reached out to Brent Maxim of Manchester United blog The Busby Babe. Interview below.
AMA with r/RealMadrid | Live Thread | Match Preview | Match Squad | Mourinho flirting with Bale
Kiyan: Hey Brent, first things first. We're going to start this Q&A guns blazing. During the ICC, our mentions were filled with Manu fans raving about your young guns 'teaching our A team a lesson'. What was the Busby Babe’s take on that game, and Manu's pre-season as a whole?
Brent: Anyone gloating over a pre-season result is an idiot. If pre-season results were predictive of real success, United would've won the treble under Louis van Gaal. I expected United to win that game, mostly because we were much further along in our pre-season, so should have been fitter and sharper. If anything, the fact that Madrid's kids looked marginally better than United's second half team is somewhat embarrassing. There's no excuse for that shootout though, which may have genuinely been the worst set of penalties I've ever seen.
Pre-season as a whole has gone well. United won all but one game, but more importantly, the team has gradually looked sharper. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial looked to have been hitting the weights, Paul Pogba looks more settled in the team, and Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matić have bedded in well. The defense is a shambles, but that's what Spanish Dave is for, I guess.
Kiyan: Rate Manu's transfer window; and were you happy you ended up with Lukaku over Morata?
Brent: If I'm being perfectly honest, I wasn't totally enamoured with either player, but it's clear that they were the two best available options. The idea that Lukaku is some battering ram compared to the "more clever" Morata is rubbish — both are mobile players that link the play up well, and whose speed allows the team to play faster. That’s something we missed desperately last season. I think both players will score quite a lot of goals next season, but I don't think there's a lot between them as players. I would've been happy with Morata, but I also see the appeal of Lukaku being already a proven force in the Premier League. The worst criticism of Lukaku is that he's a flat track bully, but I'm not bothered by that at all. Arguably, we lost our shot at challenging for the league title because we failed to put weaker sides to the sword, so it's good to have someone that can reliably finish those chances.
All told, I'm reasonably happy with the window. Lukaku should be a sure thing in the league (even if it remains to be seen whether he can step up a level in quality to become truly elite). Matić is not exciting, but the manager knows him and trusts him, and we have been crying out for a real holding midfielder. The jury is out on Victor Lindelöf, and I think United missed a trick by not going all out for an experienced, top class center back to partner with Eric Bailly. Mourinho still wants a winger, and if a deal for Gareth Bale can be done, that would make this summer's business exceptional.
Kiyan: This is the first real game of the season for either team. What can we expect from Mourinho's scheme tomorrow?
Brent: In the final pre-season match against Sampdoria, Mourinho used a 3-5-2, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that formation deployed again
Kiyan: How much do you believe in the 'Mourinho 2nd season' hype?
Brent: Well, to be fair, it's not as much hype as it is a proven track record. I haven't always been Mourinho's biggest fan over the years, but there's no questioning his success rate. With over a year to implement his ideas, and three full transfer windows in which to shape his squad, I'm expecting Mourinho to deliver success this season.
Kiyan: Let's zoom out for a second. Are you happy with the strides UTD have taken since the Van Gaal era?
Brent: Sure. Progress was maybe slower than some fans wanted last season, but it's clear that in Mourinho, we now have a manager who at least knows what he's doing. Finishing sixth in the league was disappointing, but as a firm believer in "top four is not a trophy," I was much happier with winning a cup double and securing a return to the Champions League that way, than I would've been with, for example, a season like Spurs had.
This season though, there can be no excuses. If Mourinho doesn't deliver the league or come damn close (with some other silverware), it will be a failure.
Kiyan: What worries you the most about Real Madrid?
Brent: Just thinking about Cristiano Ronaldo running at Chris Smalling and Daley Blind is giving me heartburn.
Kiyan: What should Real Madrid be most worried about?
Brent: I'm not sure a United team in transition is enough to worry the champions of Europe, but Mourinho has an exceptional record in finals for good reason. He will set his team out to make sure the game is played on United's terms, and there is enough pace available in attack to trouble any defense.
Kiyan: Call it.
Brent: I'm going bold: 1-0 United. Mostly due to superior match sharpness, and Mourinho taking the game way more seriously than he should.