Less than a week after the ill-tempered showpiece that was the World Cup Final, Manchester United took to the field in Toronto’s Rogers Centre to play their first pre-season friendly against our cuddly Caledonian cousins from Glasgow Celtic. It was a strange-looking United squad, with none of the World Cup participants – Park, Rooney, Evra, Carrick, new signing Hernandez and Vidic (probably on his way to Madrid) – in evidence and Ferdinand and Nani still injured.
Anyway, what a relief it was to get back to some proper football after all the hype and manufactured melodrama of South Africa. For any United fan, it was like slipping into a warm bath at the end of a long day. The ageless Paul Scholes was there, pinging passes around the pitch, Dimitar Berbatov was all flicks and clever turns, Gabriel Obertan threatened every time he got the ball and new recruit Chris Smalling started impressively alongside Jonny Evans. To top it all, there was not a vuvuzela to be heard anywhere. Blissful.
Dimitar Berbatov was in wonderful form against Celtic in Toronto
Yet more enjoyable was the standard of United’s play. They looked sharp and creative and threatened Celtic’s goal on numerous occasions before an excellent finish from Berbatov gave them the lead after 34 minutes. At the interval, we had the usual merry-go-round of mass substitutions, with Scholes and Giggs removed and the likes of Gibson and O’Shea brought on. Celtic made only one change, with Greek striker Samaras being introduced and he created havoc down United’s left in the early minutes of the second half. Eventually, a strong run into the area from new recruit Joe Ledley produced an injudicious tackle from Smalling and Samaras scored the penalty with some aplomb.
Celtic could reasonably claim to have gained the upper hand thereafter, but man-of-the-match Berbatov engineered an easy tap in for Danny Welbeck, then produced a cute backheel to send in Tom Cleverley for a deflected third. 3-1 definitely flattered United, but the performances of Scholes, Obertan and above all, Berbatov lifted them to a different level to Celtic, who were anonymous in the first half and only threatened when Samaras came on. As my Dad remarked, how do you motivate yourself for a season where you know that you’ll finish either first or second and where some kind of European football is guaranteed? Anyway, that’s the SPL’s problem and not ours, thankfully.
United now move on for games against MLS opponents in Philadelphia, Kansas City and Houston, before travelling down to Guadalajara to play Hernadez’ old club, Chivas – something that was part of his fee, apparently.