With his future in question and jeers from his own fans ringing in his ears, Marouane Fellaini came up with a rare positive moment in his Manchester United career by scoring a late strike in a 2-1 win over Valencia. In what was Louis van Gaal’s debut at Old Trafford as United boss, Fellaini was making his first appearance for his new coach after a post-World Cup layoff. And just 15 minutes after coming on as a substitute, the £27.5 million signing, who has clearly become a symbol of the disastrous reign of David Moyes, will hope to have given Van Gaal cause to reconsider his usefulness going forward.
Other than a victory, helped by Darren Fletcher’s deflected opener, it was a performance that suggested Van Gaal will have his mind firmly on adding to his squad ahead of the start of Manchester United’s Premier League season at home to Swansea City on in just four days’ time. With Jonny Evans, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia all missing through injury, United started with youngsters Tyler Blackett and Reece James in the side. While Blackett’s performance provided encouragement for his future, it is a situation that Van Gaal will want to avoid a repeat of when the serious business gets underway.
Another issue Van Gaal still has to resolve is the identity of his captain for the long term. One of the leading contenders Wayne Rooney enjoyed a strong series of performances in the United States, but suffered a frustrating night at Old Trafford. Partnered up front by Javier Hernandez, in the continued absence of Robin van Persie, Rooney was awarded a soft penalty for the slightest of nudges from Antonio Barragan. But he failed to capitalize after drilling his penalty against the post. The England international missed another chance to get on the score sheet shortly before half time when he failed to take a fine Fletcher pass into his path when through on goal.
It wasn’t until four minutes into the second half that United’s fans had a goal to cheer. It came with a heavy degree of fortune when a corner broke to the edge of the box and the incoming Fletcher, whose shot was deflected past Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves.
Rather than be the catalyst for a more assured second-half display, an array of substitutions around the hour mark preceded Valencia’s best spell of the match. And the Spanish side, who have overhauled their squad this summer, took advantage with one of their new recruits grabbing an equalizer. It was an ignominious moment for Tom Cleverley, whose attempted clearance of a free-kick only deflected the ball to the back post and into the path of former Benfica forward Rodrigo, who volleyed emphatically past David de Gea.
While Nuno Santo’s men soon missed a chance to go in front, it still looked like it was going to be a disappointing end to preseason for Manchester United. Instead, Fellaini, the recipient of a less than enthusiastic response form some United fans after coming off the bench, showed his strength in the box to unsettle both defender and goalkeeper to leave him with a simple finish into an unguarded net.