Jos Mourinhos men prevailed on penalties in Santa Clara after Jesse Lingards opener had been cancelled out by Casemiro
Despite Julia Roberts, an Oscar-winning member of Hollywood royalty, measuring her excitement beforehand, there was an under-capacity turnout for this International Champions Cup encounter in Santa Clara, three years after Manchester United and Real Madrid drew 109,318 to Michigan Stadium for a pre-season friendly.
Levis Stadium appeared noticeably under its 68,500 capacity on Sunday, despite the official attendance being given as 65,109. Given Reals, and to a lesser extent Uniteds, appeal to Californias large Latino population, there may be questions about why this was not sold-out. That 2014 match in Michigan involved Cristiano Ronaldo who, despite only entering towards the end of the match, was still a draw for US football fans. The forward is not here this time, instead he is in China doing promotional work for Real.
After the match, Jos Mourinho referred to the Santa Clara crowd: I dont know what to say [about the attendance] – is Sunday the best day? … The price of tickets? I dont know, Ronaldo not here? I dont know what to say.
On the field United headed into half-time on Sunday 1-0 ahead, courtesy of some dazzling work from Anthony Martial. The wide man careered into Reals area, left Daniel Carvajal and Luka Modric like statues, and squared the ball to Jesse Lingard, who passed the ball past Keylor Navas in Reals goal. The goal lit up a half that had flitted between either end, and came moments after a 41st-minute Lingard shot blazed wide of Navass left post.
He is a young player, still time to learn, still time to improve, still time to develop, and its also his personality, I can say he is training better than before, hes working harder than before, its a question to bring his talent more in a consistent way, said Mourinho of the 21-year-old Martial, who is an undoubted talent, but struggled last year.
Obviously we want more consistency in his talent, I think today was positive for him, thats why I left him for 90 minutes on the pitch, he was enjoying [the game] and trying things, its important to try things in these friendly matches so its good for Anthony and his confidence.
Real are always a menace with the ball and when Lucas Vazquez took on Phil Jones in a foot-race towards Sergio Romeros goal the centre-back could be pleased with how he killed the danger. After an early Andreas Pereira corner amounted to nothing for United, Real roved forward for the first time. Carvajal cut into the opposition area and the United defence were relieved to scramble the ball away.
This was Reals opening game of their tour, while United were on their fourth. Mourinhos men had won all of their previous three, 5-2 against Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1 against Real Salt Lake, and 2-0 against Manchester City.
Zinedine Zidanes outfit looked sharp despite their lack of match practice. Gareth Bale sold Marouane Fellaini a dummy and put Carvajal in along the right. Modric buzzed through midfield and pulled strings. And Karim Benzema, the No9, displayed a deft touch.
For United Lingard forced a sharp save from Navas, the No14 lining up along the right. Inside him was Pereira, the Belgian-born Brazilian given a chance at No10, though in a fluid system he and Lingard often interchanged.
On 18 minutes the Ronaldo-less Real burst into life as Benzema and Bale traded flicks and back-heels and split United open down the left. Later in the half, the two combined in similar fashion. Matteo Darmian may have caught some inspiration from his opponents: the left-back threaded a trequartista-like ball in behind. Lingard was the intended recipient but he failed to capitalise.
For the second half Mourinho made wholesale changes so that only Martial, Darmian and Fellaini remained. The managers mood may have soured six minutes in when one replacement, Ander Herrera, limped off with what appeared a hip problem. Mourinho has already lost Juan Mata to an ankle problem on the trip so he will hope there is no serious harm to one of his first-choice midfielders.
The Portuguese said: At least [it must be] very painful because for him to come out it has to be painful, I want to wait but I say to the players no risk in friendly matches, if you feel something, that something is coming, a muscular injury, get out, the result is not important. But he was [in pain], maybe a muscle, I dont know.
Scott McTominay, Herreras replacement, was involved in a melee of bodies that led to a Real free-kick near Uniteds area. When the ball rebounded Henrikh Mkhitaryan broke and United seized the initiative. Play moved on and Daley Blind chipped an inviting ball into Romelu Lukaku but the centre-forward could only manage an air-shot.
That incident was typical of the game. The contest was played at a reasonable tempo but quality was often deficient. So, too, was the challenge Victor Lindelf administered on Theo Hernandez in Uniteds area after 69 minutes. The centre-back hacked the No15 down and Kevin Stott, the referee, pointed to the spot. Up stepped Casemiro to rifle the ball into the roof of David de Geas net.
Next Smalling conceded a foul just outside his area, to the left. Up stepped Luis Miguel Quezada who aimed directly at De Gea, the No1 having to be alert to beat the ball away and keep the score level.
By the close Fellaini could look back on a golden chance that would have given United victory. McTominay swept in a sweet ball from the right. The Belgians run was clever; his awkwardly booted wide volley was not.
The International Champions Cup rules forced a penalty shoot-out. This proved a curates egg as Martial skied over, Mateo Kovacic missed, McTominay missed, Oscar missed, Mkhitaryan rolled the ball in, Quezada scored, Lindelof missed, Hernandez missed, Blind scored and Casemiro missed.
It meant United won the spot-kick showdown 2-1, though Zidane stated he was satisfied. His team next take on Manchester City in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric; Vazquez, Isco, Bale; Benzema
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Romero (De Gea); Fosu-Mensah (Blind, ht), Bailly (Lindelof, ht), Jones (Smalling, ht), Darmian (Valencia, 78); Carrick (Herrera, ht (McTominaym 52)), Fellaini; Lingard (Mkhitaryan, ht), Pereira (Pogba, ht), Martial; Rashford (Lukaku, ht)