Harry Maguire had his Manchester United medical on Saturday to present manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some welcome and much-needed good news.
Though United’s pre-season results have been decent, storm clouds have gathered off the pitch and Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were all absent from their final friendly before their opening Premier League game against Chelsea on Sunday.
The consolation for United is that, while they were struggling against AC Milan without their big-hitters in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Maguire was at Carrington having his physical examinations after United and Leicester agreed a record £80million fee for the 26-year-old on Friday.
Maguire was pictured driving into United’s training headquarters and is expected to meet his new team-mates on Monday.
His arrival after the transfer saga of the summer could not have come soon enough and there were several defensive frailties last night to indicate that he should walk straight into Solskjaer’s first XI.
Having taken the lead through Marcus Rashford’s stunner, United were sloppy, letting Milan hit back through goals from former Liverpool forward Suso and Samu Castillejo. And this is not the great Milan of old — they finished fifth in Serie A last season and will be in the Europa League with United.
At least United finished the game strongly enough to preserve their unbeaten pre-season record through Jesse Lingard’s equaliser.
The problem for Solskjaer is that there will be uncertainty over the make-up of his squad until transfer windows close all over Europe.
Pogba did not travel to Cardiff with an injury that sceptics are connecting with his wish to join Real Madrid. Nonetheless, United insist they expect the player to stay and Solskjaer backed his story pre-match by saying: ‘At the end of the [Friday] training session, Paul got a back spasm.’
Lukaku has not played all summer with an alleged ankle problem and wants a move to Inter Milan or Juventus, with United ready to sell for £75million, or set up a part-exchange involving Paulo Dybala or Mario Mandzukic. But as the clubs haggle over price, the stand-off is getting tense and United were furious their striker put sensitive information about United’s training stats on social media last week.
Luke Shaw was forced to defend himself after he appeared as the slowest player on the published sprinting data and United demanded Lukaku remove his post immediately. And Sanchez is still resuming fitness after getting injured playing for Chile.
United, who had won all five of their previous tour games in Australia, Singapore, China and Norway, started impressively and Rashford scored after 14 minutes.
The 21-year-old cut in from the left edge of the penalty area and evaded a couple of challenges before rifling home from 20 yards.
But with Milan’s quick passing causing problems for Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay in the middle of the park, the Italians levelled after 25 minutes when two former Liverpool players combined. Fabio Borini accelerated away from Matic and slipped a pass into Suso who, given space by Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo, fired home from the edge of the box past David de Gea.
It could have been worse for United 10 minutes later when Suso’s angled cross failed to get the connection from centre-forward Krzysztof Piatek and De Gea had to readjust his position quickly to palm away the danger. Castillejo put Milan ahead midway through the second half when his header bounced off Lindelof past De Gea.
It was the cue for the standard mass substitutions in International Champions Cup games but, to United’s credit, they fought hard and levelled after 72 minutes when Lingard collected a pass by Anthony Martial and dragged the ball from right foot to left and hit a clean cross-shot low past Pepe Reina.
United attacked for the winner in 90 minutes but had to settle for penalties, which they won 5-4, De Gea saving from Paolo Maldini’s son Daniel, before Dan James struck the decisive kick.
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