“Everything is really bad.”
That’s how Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, speaking at a press conference in the United States after a friendly, described his preseason. The Portuguese skipper sat motionless and listless in front of the microphone; you could almost see him counting the reasons to be upset.
“Honestly, I’m worried,” he said. “I have to be worried.”
And with good reason.
With the majority of their top players enjoying a post-World Cup vacation — mainstays like Paul Pogba, David de Gea, and Romelu Lukaku — the squad that ventured stateside certainly didn’t represent a cohesive United. Mourinho acknowledged the opportunity for the youngsters on his team, but the setbacks ultimately outweighed any semblance of progress: Anthony Martial left under mysterious circumstances to attend to the birth of his son, and then drew his manager’s ire when he didn’t return; Antonio Valencia went down with an injury and could miss the start of the season; and now United square off against Leicester City in a week’s time to commence the Premier League season.
This beleaguered side meets Bayern Munich on Sunday at Allianz Arena in Munich — a game you can watch right here on FloLive — hoping to discover any shred of decent form.
Bayern, meanwhile, though not shrouded in drama like United, enters the season with problems of its own: a new coach, another devastating Champions League ouster, and an aging front line.
Make no mistake: this final preseason friendly is a battle between two wounded animals itching to fight.
Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke: Bayern Remains Calm In The Market
For the last several years, Bayern Munich has faced no serious competition in the Bundesliga. In fact, the last time the German giants didn’t romp the table by double-digit points occurred back in the 2011-2012 campaign when Borussia Dortmund secured the crown. Since then, though, the Bavarians have enjoyed smooth sailing. And this year isn’t going to be any different.
Bayern know their roster is stacked for at least another year, which is why they essentially flatlined in the transfer market. They grabbed Leon Goretzka from Schalke 04, Alphonso Davies from the Vancouver Whitecaps — he’ll remain on loan — and they welcomed back Portuguese starlet Renato Sanches, but nothing else.
In a summer that has seen Cristiano Ronaldo move from Madrid to Turin and Liverpool spend over $200 million, Bayern is sticking to their guns. Arjen Robben is 34 years old, Franck Ribery is 35, and both Robert Lewandowski (29) and Thomas Muller (28) are starting to approach that standard age of regression.
But new manager Niko Kovac doesn’t need to worry. The Bundesliga remains Bayern’s training ground (not to mention youth system), and he’ll be able to simultaneously preserve the older players and increasingly integrate the younger players, most notably winger Kingsley Coman, who scored three goals last year in league play. The 22-year-old Frenchman with lightning pads for feet is due for a breakout year.
Throw in a slew of young, versatile midfielders — Joshua Kimmich (technically a right back, but who's beautifully comfortable anywhere on the flanks), Corentin Tolisso, and the aforementioned Goretzka — and this team doesn’t need to worry.
(Another reason not to worry: we didn’t even have time to talk about the still-incredible James Rodriguez.)
Is Something Volatile Simmering For The Red Devils?
Jose Mourinho has pretty much always cut a foul-tempered figure, but something about his recent tirades and grump sessions in the USA seems to suggest that, despite Manchester United’s absolute wealth of talent, this project could be due for upheaval.
The Premier League runners-up played well domestically last year — although ceding the title to your crosstown rivals in never fun — but their round-of-16 exit to Sevilla in the Champions League was a bitter pill to swallow; to have it happen at home is even worse. The pressure is only mounting; one wonders if this squad, if this manager, could take another disappointing finish in European play no matter how well they fare in England.
United has likewise remained somewhat inactive during the transfer market, bringing in, like Bayern, a talented midfielder in Fred, but otherwise eschewing any blockbuster deal that has presented itself. (Curiously, many of the English sides have thus far kept a close watch on their wallets — save Liverpool, of course.)
The fact remains that this team is exceptionally loaded. A midfield bolstered with Fred could free Pogba up even more; Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, and Marouane Fellaini round out the depth in the center of the pitch along with the budding Scott McTominay.
The back line, however, has some serious questions, especially at fullback. Valencia is out with an injury for at least a little while, Ashley Young is growing older, Luka Shaw has never inspired confidence in Mourinho, and Matteo Darmian only recently walked back an apparent desire to return to his native Italy.
United must hope that their ridiculous frontline, spearheaded by Lukaku, continues to carry them forward. They’ll need more improvement (and involvement) from Marcus Rashford and a steadier influence from recent addition Alexis Sanchez.
The Preseason Exception: Playtime Is Over
There’s no getting around the fact that most preseason games are really, really bad — especially coming off a World Cup. But Sunday’s game in Munich represents the last chance for both of these teams to slide into competition form. That’s truer for United than for Bayern to some extent, since the Red Devils open up on August 10 while Bayern plays a super cup and first-round cup game before tackling Bundesliga.
All the same, both Mourinho and Kovac need to figure out who among their star-studded rosters will feature this year as both sides eye European and domestic glory.
Don't forget to catch the action right here on FloLive this Sunday.