United's depth against Barca signals title tilt
Squad show real depth against Barca, lending credence to title talk
MAN UTD 3
(Wayne Rooney 7, Jesse Lingard 65, Adnan Januzaj 90)
Louis van Gaal is a showman. He plays to the gallery.
In terms of stagecraft, he's more of a magician than a manager, always eager to stun the crowd and top his previous feats.
Yesterday morning (Singapore time), he surpassed himself. Jaws dropped as he substituted his entire first 11 after an hour against Barcelona.
A smattering of boos drifted across the Levi's Stadium in San Francisco, California. One or two United faces failed to hide their grimaces as they trudged off against the European champions.
But van Gaal, his eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses, smiled and sent on the B Team to knock two more goals past Barcelona for a 3-1 victory.
He sent out the kids to kill off the Catalans. It was a breathtaking statement of intent. From boys to men, take United seriously.
The title talk has focused on Arsenal, but there is a real sense of danger with the Dutchman. He's unpredictable. He's an uncanny character. He could carry United back to the summit.
Of course, the usual caveats must be quickly applied.
In the state of Disneyland, this wasn't quite a Mickey Mouse friendly, but it was hardly Star Wars either.
And beating Barcelona without Lionel Messi and Neymar has a sense of winning a marathon on roller-skates.
But most of the European champions featured at some point and United often outpassed them. Occasionally, they bypassed them.
It's been years since the Red Devils boasted a squad with such attacking variety.
Bastian Schweinsteiger missed the game through injury and few people noticed.
Angel di Maria missed the game as he worked on his move to Paris St Germain and no one cared.
The Argentinian offered a guiding light for others to follow last season. Now he's a forgotten man, banished to the shadows, out of sight, out of mind.
United's front five were Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Memphis Depay, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney.
Alongside Carrick, Schneiderlin looked to the manor born, comfortable in his elevated surroundings and eager to please.
United's newcomer was up against one of the world's best in his position, but Barcelona's bulldog, Sergio Busquets, was kept on a tight leash.
On the left, Young again refused to acknowledge either his age or his lack of prestige to hold down his position. Again, he gave his manager no excuse to drop him for bigger brand names.
The 30-year-old winger was arguably buoyed by van Gaal's decision to keep a once-drowning youngster afloat.
The Dutchman spent most of last season haranguing Luke Shaw - he was too slow, too unfit, too tentative and too unsure of himself - the muddled mind games went on for months.
Shaw was leaving. Then he was staying. He wasn't a Manchester United player. Then he was the future of Manchester United.
Up against Andres Iniesta and Rafinha, the 20-year-old wasn't quite a revelation - it was still only a friendly - but he was an assured presence.
His spiritual ancestor, Denis Irwin, once said that Shaw would be United's left back for the next 10 years. That's an early call to make.
But he can certainly be United's left back for next season.
Van Gaal began with his strongest available 11, albeit not his favoured formation - without Schweinsteiger, he went with a 4-2-3-1 rather than 4-3-3 - and United passed crisply and cleanly, with a confidence not seen since the Ferguson era.
And then, the anarchic illusionist pulled off the equivalent of the tablecloth trick, dragging them all off without breaking anything.
Eleven men came off. Eleven men went on, two more goals went in and one improved team performance left the manager looking like Houdini.
United's second goal was a magnificent, collective effort, culminating in Jesse Lingard's tidy finish.
And Adnan Januzaj's late strike suggested he's not ready to join the league of shadows with di Maria.
Flaws remain of course. Aside from his early gift of a headed goal, Rooney still lacks the fleet-footed acceleration to lead the line alone.
Barcelona's Pedro has the pace required at Old Trafford.
Matteo Darmian and Memphis Depay must work to shake off new-club rustiness and Phil Jones remains a cross between a headless chicken and a terrified turkey a week before Christmas.
But there are reasons to be cheerful at United - 11 of them came on in the second half to underline the club's new-found depth under van Gaal.
Whether the Red Devils have the makings of a title-winning first 11 remains to be seen.
But they are moving quickly towards having a title-chasing squad.
"With a coach like (Louis) van Gaal and the kind of players they have, they are a team that are going for everything."
— Barcelona coach Luis Enrique on Man United
Enrique: United can go for everything
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique believes Manchester United will be contenders on all three fronts - the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup this season.
After watching United humble Barcelona 3-1 in a friendly match in California yesterday morning (Singapore time), the Barca coach has backed former mentor Louis van Gaal to turn around the Red Devils' fortune.
"With a coach like van Gaal and the kind of players they havet, hey are a team that are going for everything," he said.
Van Gaal took over the reins of the Old Trafford outfit last season and steered them to fourth in the standings, after a disastrous season under David Moyes in which they finished seventh.
Enrique said United can emulate the Catalans, who endured a disappointing season in 2014.
But Barcelona rebounded from that drought with the treble - La Liga, Spanish Copa del Rey and Champions League - last season.
Enrique said: "In a year a lot of things can happen. We came off the back of a year without a trophy and we won the treble. United could do the same, they're a great club.
"I spoke to (van Gaal) for five minutes. It was a pleasure. He is a great person and one of the best coaches that I ever had. I have great memories of him."
The Barca coach was not worried by the loss, pointing to Luis Suarez's disallowed goal for offside and twice hitting the post.
"Hitting the woodwork is part of the game," Enrique said. "Today we have not been as clinical as usual. Aside from hitting the post, we created plenty of chances.
"The important thing is to pick up pace, get minutes, and get in shape. We'll try to keep improving in all aspects - pre-seasons are there to continue to improve and get better for the next game."
Barcelona will have now travelled to Washington to play Chelsea in their last International Champions Cup fixture on Wednesday morning (Singapore time).
- Wire Services.
"We won last year (against Real Madrid in pre-season) and it doesn’t mean anything because we lost the first match of the Premier League season against Swansea."
— Man United manager Louis van Gaal