Manchester United are more than halfway through their tour of Asia and Australia with a perfect record following defeats of Liverpool, Melbourne Victory and Crystal Palace. The Reds have one fixture left against Aston Villa to complete before returning to Europe.
United will then take on Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in Oslo as a nod to United’s extensive fan base in Scandinavia. The tour will finish with a homecoming at Old Trafford against Spanish side Rayo Vallecano.
Superficially it’s been so far so good in terms of results. Although preseason friendly matches don’t often count for much, it is definitely better heading into a new season feeling confident following a string of victories.
The icing on the cake would have to be seeing Liverpool off by four goals in Bangkok. Consistently positive performances have given a glimpse into what new manager Erik ten Hag really expects from his side.
The spotlight has been very much on Ten Hag as the new manager, rather than on the players per se. Ten Hag’s intense training sessions both in Manchester ahead the tour and in front of thousands of fans on the tour itself have been hotly debated.
Despite publicly playing down the absence of starman Cristiano Ronaldo, Ten Hag may be quietly grateful the Portuguese is absent from the preseason tour. It gives the Dutchman the chance to test the rest of his team out, giving minutes to players who he will hope to convert to a more proactive style of play.
That’s all based on the assumption that Ten Hag will do without Ronaldo though. Adequate preparations have been affected by United’s inability to land the majority of their transfer targets before the Reds departed. Whether this is their intended transfer timeline is unclear.
Only Tyrell Malacia, just one of United’s three signings so far, is on the tour and has minutes under his belt. United have since completed the signings of Argentinian defender Lisandro Martínez and Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen. It is unclear when or if these signings will link up with the tour.
From a preparation standpoint it pales in comparison to the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal who look to have completed their most significant signings (and departures) ahead of their tours.
United’s main striker is awol, whereas Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez has played in several preseason matches already. City’s equivalent striking ace Erling Haaland will feature prominently in the US for City.
Commercially it represents United’s biggest opportunity to sell the brand to a foreign audience since covid-19 stalled the preseason tour in 2020. Last season’s tour was limited to domestic fixtures.
United were originally supposed to play their first match on Indian soil back in 2020 with additional dates set to earn the club over £3 million per appearance. Prior to that, the 2019 preseason campaign was the last major foreign outing for the club.
Those dates very much mirrored the look of this season’s tour with jaunts to Asia, Australia and Norway. It contrasts the experience of many of the Premier League and Europe’s larger clubs. For example, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus have all gone to compete in preseason tournaments in the US.
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United’s rivals who have packed their bags for the US not only have to travel less, but also have the benefits of a more compact schedule. The Reds were last in US for a two week tour back in 2018 under Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated tenure.
Perhaps the United hierarchy simply see the potential to exploit markets in Asia and Australia as more beneficial while rivals trip over each other’s toes stateside.
Transfer business already mentioned, it can be tough to get a true read on United’s activity until the window snaps shut in a few weeks. The rumour mill around United is like no other. United fans will rank not just the quality of incoming players’ potential as much as how the glaring squad gaps are filled.
So far United’s transfer business leaves a bit to be desired, even outside the context of their rivals. Their tour will perhaps be the most commercially lucrative but how far it will impact in terms of preparation and fatigue remain to be seen.