Belfast Telegraph

Mata saves blushes as Mourinho hails Matic 'a genius'

Manchester United 2-1 Sampdoria

By David Young

Jose Mourinho hailed new signing Nemanja Matic "a genius" as the holding midfielder made his Manchester United debut.

Matic started for the Red Devils in their 2-1 friendly win over Sampdoria in Dublin following his £40million switch from Premier League champions Chelsea.

He lasted 45 minutes, with Mourinho admitting the Serbian still lacked full match fitness.

"He needs time but (his) experience, intelligence, a genius in the way he thinks - he thinks football," Mourinho said.

As well as Matic, fellow new boys Victor Lindelof and Romelu Lukaku also started the game at the Aviva Stadium.

United opening the scoring in the first half when Henrikh Mkhitaryan headed home at the far post after a lightning break.

Sampdoria equalised midway through the second half, with Dennis Praet's deflected effort deceiving David De Gea.

Substitute Juan Mata got the winner with 10 minutes left, coolly side-footing in from the edge of the penalty area.

Mourinho said his club had done a "fantastic job" delivering three of his desired four summer transfers.

He added: "To get three out of four I thank the club for that, I will be happier if they get me four of four but they did a great effort for me."

After beginning pre-season with a back three, Mourinho bookended it with same defensive system, and this time felt more significant than the first. Certainly, it was no accident that Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Daley Blind were the trio to line up alongside each other, given the suspensions that will keep Phil Jones and Eric Bailly out of Tuesday's Super Cup.

The United manager need only look at Sampdoria's equaliser to see why he should be concerned about the form of each member in that central three.

Blind, in particular, has looked off the pace over the last few weeks. His horror back-pass to De Gea in the opening stages, which almost put United 1-0 down, was only the most spectacular of several poor moments on the ball from the utility man.

Against better opposition, such moments will be punished.

It remains early days, but the gradual resurgence of Matteo Darmian's Old Trafford career moved on a little further here with a display that suggested even a fit and firing Luke Shaw would not dislodge him from the left-back berth.

After starting life in Manchester so well, with a string of impressive performances at the start of Louis van Gaal's second season, Darmian lost his way after the October international break. There were moments last season too where after being handed an opportunity by his new manager, he disappointed.

This calendar year, however, the Italian has began to look far more assured in his play and has grown into his attacking responsibilities. The assist for Henrikh Mkhitaryan here was evidence of that. With Blind's wretched form and Shaw's own issues, Darmian is becoming Mourinho's established left-back and United supporters can begin to show confidence in him again.

Despite the positives of the first half, in which United were dominant, the substitutions of some of United's best performers at half-time meant moments of inspiration were few and far between after the break. Without Matic to break play down in the middle and Pogba's vision, United's attack began to look reminiscent of the sterile play that let Mourinho's side down at times last season.

The player who eventually changed all this was Anthony Martial. He was the only one in red who looked capable of threatening for much of the second half. When the second game, it was borne out of another dribble down the left by the Frenchman, and he showed composure to square to scorer Juan Mata.

It was not a goal United's overall second-half performance deserved and they had Martial to thank for it.

Belfast Telegraph

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