Manchester United's pre-season preparations stayed true to form on Saturday as the Barclays Premier League champions chalked up a fifth successive win in their final encounter of their USA tour, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson in upbeat mood and confident that his squad is in good shape ahead of the defence of their title.
The weekend's victory was, though, somewhat more impressive than the previous four, with United triumphing 2-1 over European champions Barcelona in front of 82,000 spectators in Washington DC.
Nani had put United ahead in the first half before Thiago Alcantara equalised with 20 minutes remaining, thanks to a stunning effort. But Michael Owen scored the decider six minutes later, to serve some sort of retribution to Barca following the Catalan giants' Champions League final win at Wembley in May.
And, following the positive result, Sir Alex Ferguson was firmly focused on the season ahead - and reserved special praise for 21-year-old midfielder Tom Cleverley, who could have a substantial role to play next term.
“We're happy winning the match against Barcelona,” said the United boss. “To be honest, both teams made a lot of changes so it's difficult to gauge exactly the importance of the result.
“But the expectation is for us to win all games and we're delighted to go into the season with a winning frame of mind. We've integrated the new players well – they've done well settling in with players they don't really know.
“I'm sure we're fit, I'm sure we've got a good squad and I've got some good young players coming through. These are all plusses – we have a squad able to deal with the demands of the English and European game. Now we move on to matters back home and hopefully we keep our form.”
He added: “With Paul Scholes retiring and Darren Fletcher still recovering from his virus, central midfield is an area we have to find a solution for. Tom Cleverley, physically, isn't the strongest lad but he's wily and he has a great idea of the game.
“He's a good footballer and I thought he was our best player against Barcelona. His discipline was terrific, he's a good passer and he has good eyes. He's a big possibility to start for us at the start of the season.”
Cleverley, meanwhile, was pleased with his own performance against Barca, having laid on the winner for Owen. “It’s nice to test yourself against some of the best players in the world,” he told MUTV.
“This was a big game for me and the other fringe players trying to stake a claim. There were a few nerves but they went after the first five minutes.
“It’s good after being out on loan for a season to return to the first team set-up, to get back playing the Manchester United way. I’ve just got to take confidence from this and carry on.”
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