As the arch winner José Mourinho will be disappointed with this defeat, though a game played in stifling heat was never really about the result.
The Manchester United manager said beforehand the priority was for his new team to start the process of gelling, with zero focus on the opposition. This opening International Champions Cup game was in part, therefore, an exercise in searching for clues regarding the Portuguese’s thinking.
Was there anything, then, in Antonio Valencia being asked to captain the side? Or Juan Mata being positioned at No10 and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was in that role against Wigan Athletic, being on the left? Or Daley Blind, a centre-back for most of last term, playing in midfield? Maybe, maybe not: to guess would be akin to tea-leaf reading at this nascent stage of Mourinho’s tenure.
What is clear is the quality Mkhitaryan possesses. It was displayed on Saturday at Wigan and the way the 27-year-old pinged one early pass down his corridor showed again why Mourinho bought him.
This bright start was halted when Thomas Tuchel’s side went ahead. Sam Johnstone, the goalkeeper, might have done better with the speculative 30-yard free-kick hit by Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. Instead it was spilled, Ousmane Dembélé hit one follow-up attempt beaten out by the goalkeeper from close in but, when the ball finally fell to Gonzalo Castro, he finished.
From here the contest meandered for a while on a Shanghai night becoming ever more sultry. Mourinho had pointed out that Dortmund were well advanced of United in their preparations, having played four matches already, and it showed. Tuchel’s men were sharper and stronger and by the 35th minute were 2-0 ahead.
As United’s manager said: “At the moment the engines are completely different. Formula 1 against Formula 3. They are much sharper and you can see that easily, so it’s difficult to judge my players.”
United were breached down their left and, when a cross came in, Aubameyang’s overhead kick was mishit, Valencia handled and the referee, Wang Di, awarded the penalty. Aubameyang slotted easily past Johnstone, who went right and saw the ball go past him down the middle.
Aubameyang was running United ragged whenever the ball came near him. He slipped beyond Phil Jones and chipped Johnstone but the keeper recovered and made the save. By the end of the half Mourinho had switched Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard but the Portuguese, standing in the technical box, was witnessing a mismatch.
“After 10 minutes we know that one team started training 10 days ago and played one match, and the other team started one month ago and played already four games,” he said. “It’s so easy to see the difference of intensity and sharpness. For us it was very difficult.”
For the second half Jones, Lingard, Johnstone and Memphis Depay went off and Sergio Romero became the new keeper, joined by Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford. The latter’s introduction received a cheer from the crowd and the young forward was instantly involved in a United move, turning the ball into Luke Shaw’s path. The left-back was clear and had Young for support but he overran possession and the danger fizzled out.
Rojo’s first act before his new manager was hardly impressive, as he was fooled by Dembélé before the Dortmund No7 made it 3-0.
United’s shape had become fluid; Rashford and Mkhitaryan switching at times between the left forward and No9 berths. It was from a ball through the middle the Armenia captain pulled one back, tapping home a Mata pass after lurking near the penalty spot.
By the close Adnan Januzaj and Andreas Pereira were on for Valencia and Blind. Januzaj sparkled here and there but, as Castro added his second and Dortmund’s fourth towards the end, the Belgian’s intermittent threat could be viewed as the United display in microcosm.
Mourinho continues to target Paul Pogba or another midfielder to complete the four major signings he wants. “When we sign one, that crucial [player] work will be done,” the 53-year-old said. “Then the market will be open until 31 August. Sometimes things happen that you are not expecting and we have to react.”
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