After a testing summer tour in which United’s players had racked up more air miles than Richard Branson and endured the heat and humidity of Singapore and Shanghai, the short hop to a temperate Norway must have come as welcome relief. Lukaku’s exclusion once again didn’t go unnoticed, although this time it was the relegation of Paul Pogba to the substitutes bench that got the fans talking. Was it a sign of Pogba’s impending departure? A tactical experiment? Perhaps he was carrying a knock? Whatever the reasons, we didn’t think it would make much difference to the outcome of what proved to be the very definition of a pre-season friendly.
Despite lacking the aforementioned Pogba it was still a strong starting lineup, which I would suspect is only one or two players away from the team that takes the field against Chelsea when the Premier League begins again in less than two weeks time. Given the outcome of the game you may find this slightly disconcerting, although it’s difficult to read too much into what was essentially a glorified training match.
As expected, United controlled possession from the first whistle and piled on the pressure although they were unable to create any clear cut chances. Kristiansund meanwhile were forced to defend deep and in numbers as they repelled wave after wave of United attacks. For much of the first half De Gea was reduced to little more than a spectator, and it seemed like only a matter of time before the deadlock would be broken.
The lack of activity in United’s penalty box allowed Phil Jones to get forward and support the attacking play, while Luke Shaw also joined in the action down the left hand side. In a role reversal from the Inter game a week or so earlier, this time Wan Bissaka was the quieter of the two fullbacks.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first, with United having most of the ball and Kristiunsund’s attackers feeding off scraps. Despite this it was the hosts who almost scored first, when Wan Bissaka allowed Sondre Sorli to saunter into space and take a free header in the penalty box which he somehow managed to send wide of the upright. After the hour mark Solskjaer had apparently seen enough and emptied the bench, partly to give some players a run out and partly to give the resolute Kristiansund back eight something different to deal with. Although the personnel changed, the pattern of the game did not, and United still struggled to find that killer touch in the final third.
Just when it looked like United would be forced to settle for a draw, Pogba played Mata through on goal and the Spaniard was ‘caught’ by Kristiansund’s third goalkeeper of the evening (yes, it was that kind of game) and the referee pointed to the spot. Mata took the honours and slotted home the winner with only seconds of the game remaining.
In terms of preparation for the upcoming season it was useful, as United will more than likely face off against similarly stubborn, but limited, opposition in the Europa League group stages. Other than that we just have to be happy with the win and look forward to what should be a much more meaningful and hopefully more entertaining game against Milan on Sunday.