Manchester United play the most prestigious game of the pre-season so far when they take on Real Madrid at the NRG Stadium in Texas.
The games between the two sides are always highly anticipated and often break attendance records.
With the two teams in transition, one on the pitch in terms of playing personnel (Real Madrid), the other in the dugout as the manager makes his mark (Man United), this fixture is sure to provide many key battles.
In a game against such an elite opponent, expect Erik ten Hag to try out tactical combinations which might become a staple of the competitive games.
Here are three tactical battles to watch out for at the NRG stadium-
Unstoppable force vs Immovable object
A year ago, calling Aaron Wan-Bissaka a crucial part of Man United XI would have been a pipe dream. Now that he has forced his way into Ten Hag’s plans, his battle with Vinicius Jr on Thursday should be salivating.
The tricky Brazilian has made the leap into superstardom, often leaving defenders dizzy in his wake with remarkable close control and dribbling skills.
In Wan-Bissaka, he’ll meet United’s resident lockdown defender. The right-back has come through challenges against many esteemed opponents in the past with his reputation intact. However, for a right-back today, there is arguably no bigger challenge than facing Vini Jr at his silky best.
If the United man comes out of this with his head firmly on his shoulders instead of chasing shadows, he’ll confirm his own leap to United’s undisputed first-choice right-back.
Some transformation from being on the brink of the exit door just 7 months ago.
Jadon Sancho 2.0
In the absence of a natural striker in the squad, Erik ten Hag has started the “Tadic-ification” of Jadon Sancho in this pre-season.
It means that Sancho is effectively playing the role which Dusan Tadic played to perfection in his thrilling Ajax side.
False 9 is an oversimplification of what Sancho is doing but is the closest possible description of his role at the moment. He starts as the furthest player forward but regularly drops deep to drag centre-backs away from the defensive line with him.
This then leaves space for inverted wingers to run into the half-spaces which the defenders have left vacant.
Sancho’s instinctive off-the-ball running and ability to play in tight spaces with his ball control have unlocked the best of him in this role.
With Anthony Martial’s return on the horizon and Rasmus Hojlund’s signing in the future, he might not get to play this role often. However, he has played well enough to warrant it being an able backup option.
Onana’s baptism of fire
Can a player who bossed the UEFA Champions League final really have a baptism of fire in a pre-season game? In Andre Onana’s case, very much so.
Gary Neville has earlier said that the position of United goalkeeper is the toughest gig in football due to the intense glare of the fans and media at every action.
The game against Real Madrid will be watched by millions and Onana’s debut is the most anticipated debut at the club in a long time.
Furthermore, Madrid’s playing style under Ancelotti is not exactly conducive to Onana playing his natural game.
Los Blancos don’t press intensely in the opposition half, preferring to sit in rest defence instead to make it difficult for the opponent to play through the lines.
Therefore, Onana will find it hard to pick out passes as passing options will most likely be marked. Playing through the press and picking out the free man is his forte. At the NRG Stadium, there will likely be no press to play through.
In such a scenario, simple passes to retain the ball and move the opposition is the ideal scenario instead of forcing the issue and conceding possession. A unique challenge awaits Onana on his debut.