Football: Juan Mata rescues Manchester United from opening pre-season defeat against Club America

Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Juan Mata controls the ball during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Watford at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on May 13, 2018.
Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Juan Mata controls the ball during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Watford at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on May 13, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

(THE GUARDIAN) - Opening pre-season games are often soporific affairs and English Premier League football giants Manchester United's 2018-19 edition was no different.

Before a sparse crowd of 37,660 that was markedly below the University of Phoenix Stadium's 63,400 capacity, José Mourinho's men ended with a 1-1 draw against Mexican side Club América courtesy of Juan Mata's late strike.

The manager fielded an XI that had Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw in defence. He confirmed this as the likely rearguard to start the season against Leicester owing to the post-World Cup break, meaning many senior players will not be available.

Mourinho said: "The line-up has the most possible I would say men, because the objective is to prepare them the best we can for the start of the season as we don't have many more players than this one. Valencia, Smalling, Bailly and Shaw, they are probably the ones to start the season in defence.

"There is Andreas Pereira, Herrera and Scott (McTominay in midfield) - we have (Nemanja) Matic and Fred coming next week, so there we have more solutions and (up front tonight) we have Mata, (Demitri) Mitchell, (Anthony) Martial. Sanchez is coming but we don't have many more solutions for the start of the season."

Martial had an early penalty shout denied by the referee, Kevin Stott, and later United's centre-forward blazed over from the edge of the box. From similar range Mata brushed Agustin Marchesin's left post in the closest the touring team went in the opening period.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Mourinho had declared pre-season "very bad". This was partly due to Sanchez's absence because of a denied visa, so his mood will have brightened by the Chilean's expected weekend arrival.

The Portuguese, though, will still be without Paul Pogba , Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelöf, and Ashley Young even when David de Gea, Matic and Fred follow Sanchez.

This is a sizeable proportion of front-line players though Mourinho should be conscious it is the same for all United's Premier League rivals regarding their key personnel requiring holidays following Russia 2018.

The manager's 4-3-3 had Martial splitting Mata to the right and the pacey Mitchell left. The 21-year-old showed quick feet and linked up with Shaw along his flank on occasion.

Lee Grant's debut in United's goal was marked by a sharp save from Roger Martinez when the No. 9 ran through. By the close of the first half Martial had hit a late free kick over, and Mourinho could be pleased with flashes of slick interplay despite the team's rustiness.

For the second half Timothy Fosu-Mensah replaced Valencia and Joel Pereira came on for Grant.

Shaw is determined to finally establish himself as first-choice left-back and he proved among United's most alert performers. There was a brave defensive header and a burst forward to join the attack before he was taken off later on.

When Herrera ceded possession near halfway, the Spaniard was grateful to see Pereira make a fine save with a leg from Martinez.

Just before the hour the goalkeeper could do nothing to stop América's Henry Martin as he rose and headed sweetly past him for the opener, Antonio Lopez delivering the cross.

After Mourinho swopped Tahith Chong and Matteo Darmian for Martial and Mitchell, Shaw went close with a right-foot effort that passed the wrong side of Marchesin's left post.

The double substitution left Mata as a kind of false No. 9, a ploy that would lead to him claiming the equaliser.

The 18-year-old Chong's debut for the first-team was followed by Mason Greenwood - two years his junior - when he came on for Shaw with 14 minutes remaining.

Finally, United did find an answer. Chong fired in a cross, Herrera headed against the right post and Mata scrambled past Marchesin.