As soon as their final game against Real Madrid finished in Miami, Manchester United’s players flew directly back to England after their 18-day, five-game, pre-season tour. They were glad to get home.
A 2-1 victory over Madrid in the International Champions Cup was their first of the tour inside 90 minutes and, while manager Jose Mourinho accentuated the negatives and claimed that the victory had not changed his opinion of a trip which left him without the majority of his key players, there were undeniable positives.
United’s goals against Madrid were scored by Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera, two of the best players on the tour along with Andreas Pereira and Matteo Darmian.
The two strikes both came from rapid attacks down the right midfield – the area which has most troubled United and one which Mourinho had hoped to re-enforce.
The problem for United has been signing the players they had identified from clubs who did not want to sell them.
The first goal, after 17 minutes, came when Darmian overlapped and pulled a fine low cross back for Sanchez, a lone red surrounded by five white shirts.
The Chilean swept the ball first time low past Kiko Casilla, Madrid’s second goalkeeper but one talented enough to be called up to play for Spain.
Sanchez went straight to Darmian, the Italian defender who wants to leave Old Trafford, to celebrate.
Darmian’s performed well on this tour and his future in England might have been different had he shown such form in his first three years in Manchester.
Sanchez arrived late to the tour but has been even better in a central attacking role, showing willing to run more without the ball and at players when he had it.
The Premier League runners-up had goalkeeper David de Gea back in Miami, while his compatriots Juan Mata and Herrera combined with another Spanish speaker Sanchez for the second after 26 minutes.
Mata ran onto a Darmian ball as his team broke against the European champions, crossed to Sanchez who cleverly headed the ball down for Ander Herrera, who had charged forward to shoot.
United supporters would love to see more thrilling attacking play when the league starts next Friday against Leicester City at Old Trafford and, given the understanding between United’s unconventional attacking triumvirate of Sanchez, Mata and Herrera, will be eased by fears of so many missing players.
Mourinho claimed that he “doesn’t know” whether another forward Anthony Martial, who wants to leave, will be back with his players in England.
A week before the season starts and Mourinho still does not have all his players back, but he was pleased that Marcus Rashford, Phil Jones and Romelu Lukaku will return early from their holidays three days early to help his side.
Rashford and Jesse Lingard were holidaying in Miami and staying five minutes away from the team hotel near South Beach.
Mourinho, who still retains the support of a majority of United fans, cut a miserable figure throughout the tour as he complained, but the spirit is good among United’s players.
New £52 million (Dh250.5m) signing Fred is settling in and was given a first start in front of the 64,140 Miami crowd at the Hard Rock Stadium, the usual home of the Miami Dolphins. Fred, who wants to be as effective for United as Luka Modric is for Madrid, was neat and tidy.
Many of the crowd had bought US$140 (Dh515) tickets when Cristiano Ronaldo was still a Madrid player before his move to Juventus in July.
Prices were reduced for the stadium to be filled but Madrid, captained by Karim Benzema and with Gareth Bale alongside him in a 4-4-2, were still missing some of their best players, like United.
They are also behind United with their pre-season preparations, but, two goals down, they moved up through the gears.
Twice Benzema has got in front of Eric Bailly, the defender who Mourinho had described as not being a leader last week, but who was handed the captain’s armband.
Vinicius Junior, the 18-year-old Brazilian, looked a threat on the left for Julen Lopetegui’s side as he ran at defenders.
Madrid’s goal came in time added on at the end of the first half when Benzema got in front Bailly and poked in Theo Hernandez’s cross.
“I know my players gave everything and in the last 15 minutes we are dead and they bring on [Toni] Kroos and Asensio and Isco,” Mourinho said after victory against his former team.
“I thought we wouldn’t resist it but the boys gave everything and we try to fight for the best result. But tactically it means nothing.
"We tried to organise the best possible team to defend against them. I was not working to prepare the team for the future of the Premier League, I was just trying to get the best possible result. We are just trying to survive.
“But the result of the game today is not important. If you play Real Madrid in the Champions League that result is important, not today.”
The tour was more than about football for United. Players did plenty of work with United’s many commercial partners, they did meet and greets with fans – though not the hardcore fans who travelled from England to see the games – and lots of charity work, too.
Mourinho praised the pre-season organisers Relevant, who were understood to be unhappy with his words at the weekend where he said that if he was a fan he would not have bought tickets to see the pre-season games.
Madrid will stay in the United States where they will follow up their game against United with friendlies against Roma and Juventus.
United’s final friendly is in Munich against Bayern on Sunday as they continue their efforts to sign a central defender.
They are glad to see the back of their fourth trip to America in five years, but things were never as bad as Mourinho made out and as Alexis Sanchez, Juan Mata and the rest of the team showed against Madrid, United can still produce magical moments.