- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

LANDOVER, MARYLAND — Fans in red jerseys filled the stands on Tuesday night, turning FedEx Field into an American facsimile of Old Trafford as Wayne Rooney and Manchester United took on Inter Milan in the sixth game of the Guinness International Champions Cup.

Ninety minutes plus stoppage time was not enough to decide the contest, and after a scoreless draw in regulation, United triumphed 5-3 on penalty kicks. A mistake by Inter’s Marco Andreolli on the fourth attempt doomed the Italians as United captain Darren Fletcher stepped up and confidently buried the final shot.

“I thought we were the better team and created the better chances,” Fletcher said. “I thought we played better, so it felt good to win it.”

United Manager Louis Van Gaal rejected the notion that the shootout win was evidence of United’s newfound confidence. “We practiced that. It was also why [David] De Gea was our goalkeeper in the second half, because we think he is the best of the four we have. Yesterday Fletcher kicked one off the post, so it’s also a little bit of luck, too.”

Despite needing a little luck, the Red Devils looked much more like the 2012 team that won out the Premier League than the dismal 2013 edition. Their passing was crisp and creative and their defense unflinching in the face of Milan’s attack. Whether it was simply a team keen to leave its last season behind, or the influence of new manager Van Gaal remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – Manchester United is back.

“I’m very pleased,” Van Gaal said. “We played by far the best match in this series of three matches. As far as the opponent goes, they only had one shot on our goal, and that was given by the referee. But also we created six or seven shots, so that’s seven to one. I was also very pleased with our ball possession, which was much better than the other matches. I think also the positions were better covered. I was very pleased tonight with all of my players.”

It was a game that transcended numbers. Though it was decided on penalties, United was firmly in control throughout. While Inter struggled to defend their penalty area, Manchester attacked with confidence and fluidity and defended staunchly. Where United looked calm and collected, their Italian counterparts seemed frenzied and unsettled.

Last season defense was an area that looked all but hopeless for United, but it is an area in which they have excelled on their U.S. tour.

“You look at our three matches and you can see [we defended well],” said Van Gaal. “The first match we allowed zero goals, the second match it was a fantastic goal for Pjanic and a penalty against that was given by the referee, and today again zero goals. We are looking for defenders because a lot of defenders have gone and we need to replace them. But I also like Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett; we have to wait and see if we can do that in more matches like today.”

In the end, United triumphed on penalties in a game in which they put on a clinic and dominated time of possession by 63 percent to 37 percent. All but a handful of fans were pleased with the result and left the stadium with smiles on their faces.