Manchester United put in arguably their best performance of the season at Newcastle on Sunday afternoon, to ensure a well fought victory and a return to second place in the table.
Earlier in the day City had won, along with Chelsea the previous day, to put pressure on the reds to get a positive result at a ground where they struggled so much last season. With that defeat in the minds of United fans, a tough afternoon was expected. Even given the fact that Newcastle, much like United, have had problems with their back four, their attacking line up of Ba, Cisse, Cabaye and Ben Arfa was still a worry to what has been an often exposed defensive line.
However, it was Fergusons men who were at their dominant best at the start of the game. The midfield of Kagawa, Cleverley and Carrick, along with Rooney who was virtually at the point of a diamond, instantly took control and had United looking dangerous going forward. Recent performances have been critiqued, with our lack of width being pointed out as hampering our attacks. Therefore lining up without a recognised winger may have been slightly risky. However, the three in midfield played with a tempo and confidence not previously this season. This creative and compact core took the game to Newcastle and snuffed out any early threat from the hosts.
Even before Johnny Evans’s movement in the box allowed him to meet a Van Persie corner and head the opener after just seven minutes United should have been a goal up. Evans was again involved as he found himself with the ball in the Newcastle box. A clever back heal found Danny Welbeck in space but the young United striker scuffed his tame shot from just eight yards.
The Reds felt there were more goals in this game as they continued to pick holes in the Newcastle defence. In rampant mood Rooney and Kagawa came close to increasing the lead as well as creating chances for Welbeck and Van Persie.
Having missed a golden opportunity early in the game, Welbeck should have given United a two goal lead. After excellent work to close down Magpies ‘keeper Steve Harper and strip him of the ball he lost composure and snatched at his shot which went wide.
Another excellent performance from Rafael and an increasingly rare fine performance from Evra provided the width which Manchester United are accustomed to playing with. But for all of their fine build up play it was another corner which supplied the second United goal. Prior to this season it was just a relief to see a corner beat the first man, let alone provide two goals in the opening fifteen minutes. This time Rooney swung the ball over for Evra to simply nod home past some slack defending. It was fitting that he chose today to score for the first time in over two years as this was his 300th performance for Manchester United.
Newcastle where a shambles, unable to cope with the tempo and class that United had started with. A break in play, however, allowed Alan Pardew to reassess his tactics and communicate his wishes to his players. Credit to him, his changes did have a positive effect on Newcastle. They reduced the attacking threat that United had, with Tiote coming into the game and becoming more effective in his ‘enforcer’ role.
Generally the game became more compact and scrappy. Van Persie and Ferdinand were booked for United, as were Tiote and Gutierrez for Newcastle. The Newcastle men can both count themselves slightly fortunate not to have seen red. Guitierrez came in heavy and late on Kagawa, and even though he wasn’t high or had studs up, if the Japanese playmaker had his foot planted it could have resulted in serious injury. As for Tiote, he was got away with what appeared to be a stamp on Cleverley. Whether it was intentional or not, it was worthy of at least a second yellow.
With their greater presence in the game Newcastle naturally carried a greater threat now. The United rear guard came under a period of pressure leading up to the break. However, the partnership between Cisse and Ba lacked spark and invention. They also suffered from poor service, although their best chance of dragging themselves back into the game looked to come from wide. Not so much the service into the box but from a misjudgement from David De Gea in the United goal. De Gea had been recalled for his first league match since Fulham last month. The young ‘keeper was as capable as ever with his shot stopping abilities but looked vulnerable on crosses. This area of his game had improved before Anders Lindegaard had been given the number one spot. But now, desperate to prove to Sir Alex Ferguson that he should be first choice, he was coming for everything. This lead to him making mistakes, trying to claim balls he shouldn’t be, and adding unnecessary pressure on the Reds. Once he is assured of his spot you will see him improve his decision making and have an increased confidence which will mark far improved performances.
The even nature of the game since Newcastle altered their tactics looked to continue until, in the 50th minute, their heads dropped a little after being what they believed was a goal not being awarded. Ba met a Shane Ferguson cross ahead of De Gea but saw his effort rebound off the post where Cisse looked sure to score. Somehow De Gea recovered and remarkably clawed away the strikers header off the line. Initially everyone believed that the ball had crossed the line, but replays showed that it hadn’t. Just.
From then on United remained in control and Newcastle found it hard to penetrate the defence, restricted to just a few long range efforts which came to nothing.
All three points were wrapped up twenty minutes from time when Tom Cleverley found the top corner from the corner of the box. He claims he meant it meant, but most people will tell you that he was trying to pick out Robin Van Persie in the box. Either way it wrapped up a fine performance from the young man.
United continued to look the more likely to score again but it wasn’t to be, with the only other talking point being a clash between Van Persie and Cabaye off the ball. Van Persie, running into the box, caught the Frenchman with a forearm as they tussled for the space. Alan Pardew is apparently furious that the F.A. are not taking further action against the Dutchman.
Sir Alex Ferguson has a wealth of talented options and formations to choose at his disposal. With so many choices it can take time to find the right blend of player, position and formation, but perhaps this could be the way forward.
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