MIAMI • Jose Mourinho was finally given something to smile about as a tempestuous trip to the United States ended with Manchester United's 2-1 win over Real Madrid, thanks to first-half strikes from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera.
But, in his usual grumpy fashion during most of this pre-season tour, he insisted there were no positives to take away from a patchy squad devoid of several senior players.
"I didn't learn anything (from this tour)," he said after the International Champions Cup friendly.
"I know what Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez are.
"I know the kids are very young and need time to grow up, I know my players gave everything and, in the last 15 minutes, we were dead and they brought on Toni Kroos, Marco Asensio and Isco. And I thought we wouldn't resist but we did.
"That's the spirit we need because our first two or three weeks in the Premier League are going to be really hard for us because we didn't prepare for that."
He has cut a miserable figure during their two-week trip to the US, lashing out at a lack of transfer activity while criticising a number of his first-team players.
But seeing his side establish a two-goal lead in the first half on Tuesday was still encouraging, as was holding Real at bay after Karim Benzema's goal just before the interval.
The Portuguese has been without 17 senior players towards the end of the tour, with many injured or enjoying an extended break following the Russia World Cup.
In front of 64,141 fans at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium, Spain's David de Gea made his first start since returning from the World Cup and Brazilian midfielder Fred, signed for £52 million (S$93 million), was handed his debut.
It was United's first victory in regulation play this pre-season; AC Milan were defeated on penalties last week. Mourinho will be delighted to get back to Manchester, although whether his problems will be solved before the start of the season remains to be seen. He has called for the club's World Cup participants to shorten their holidays to help United avoid a poor start.
England duo Phil Jones and Marcus Rashford were already returning early and United will now be boosted by Romelu Lukaku's decision to do likewise as they prepare to host Leicester next Friday.
Mourinho will now prepare for his third term at Old Trafford, with bookmakers taking bets on him becoming the first Premier League manager to be sacked or leave his post this season. Critics pointed to signs of a pattern seen at previous clubs where his reign turned sour in the third season - twice at Chelsea and also at Real. There is no indication that United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward wants the 55-year-old out, having in January secured the manager's signature on a new contract to June 2020.
However, with Mourinho still preferring to live in the luxurious Lowry Hotel than buy a more permanent home, and now that his trusted No. 2 Rui Faria is no longer at United, the third-season curse could yet strike again.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN