Let’s be honest. United were going to drop points at some stage. No team has ever been perfect in the English top flight and no team ever will be. It’s painful to drop the first points of the season at Old Trafford to a team that hasn’t exactly come roaring out of the gate but just as United were never going to beat everyone the Magpies were never going to remain a pushover. They’re a young side with a blend of speed and tenacity, a poor man’s United in a way. While the lads in home red carried the play for the majority of the match, with the bounces not going their way, the fates were just as unkind to Newcastle when they enjoyed the odd opportunity. Take just a hair off Aleksandr Mitrovic’s first half header or from the pace of Papiss Cissé’s back post cross on that late counter attack and Toon could have completed an audacious smash and grab very much against the run of play. There’s no question that for both sides luck was the overriding factor in the match. Happily it evened out in the end and United managed to come away not feeling completely hard done by. Here are three other aspects of the match that I found interesting.
1. Memphis already has a reputation in the Premier League
Time and space are much rarer commodities in the Premier League than in Champions League qualifiers against clubs from second-tier European competitions. Newcastle proved that by limiting the opportunities for United’s new number seven. He did have a chance or two. For the most part, though, the right side of the Magpies defense forced him to the end line. When he did cut to the middle defenders stepped up to force him away from the eighteen-yard box. As a result Memphis was forced to pass off or attempt hurried shots from distance. Luke Shaw’s overlaps give defenders something more to consider but to truly make opponents pay for concentrating on United’s prize winger, Juan Mata and other teammates making back door runs need to convert his crosses or at least put them on target.
2. Both managers made some effective substitutions
Louis van Gaal seems to have settled on a platoon system with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick. This time the German began the match and played just under an hour. During that time he was an understated presence but a presence nonetheless. United controlled the ball moving forward and allowed Newcastle few opportunities to come straight up the middle of the pitch. When Carrick came on his distribution was its typically incisive self and he let go a goalbound screamer that unluckily deflected off a Toon defender.
The manager then used his remaining subs to bring in Chicharito for the physically overmatched Adnan Janujaz, and Antonio Valencia for Matteo Darmian. With the Mexican poacher in the match Darmian’s runs needed to be replaced by long crosses into the box. The change in tactics nearly produced a goal when an inbound missile pinballed off Mata and fell to Hernandez’s feet. Only the dragging left leg of Tim Krul managed to keep the score level.
For his part Steve McLaren brought on the speedy Florian Thauvin to dissuade Luke Shaw from pushing forward. To his credit the United left back recovered very nicely, streaking back to win the ball on the one occasion he was caught out. Thauvin was also the player nearly on the end of that late Cissé cross. He stretched United to the limit as they pushed forward in pursuit of all three points.
3. Maybe Van Gaal doesn’t need another defender
While it would be comforting to have a Mats Hummels commanding the back line in the manner Schweini is beginning to lead the midfield it may not be necessary. Both United center backs addressed the weaknesses in their games during the Newcastle match. Chris Smalling was commanding on the ball, making intelligent passes and boldly rushing forward when given space by the Magpies. He was also a presence in the attacking box during set pieces, using his height advantage against Toon captain Fabricio Collocini. Again United were unlucky when one Smalling header rang off the post.
Meanwhile his partner in crime Daley Blind consistently read the game well and was on hand several times to break up Newcastle incursions towards the United goal. If Van Gaal has truly settled on the tandem and doesn’t begin a heavy rotation when Phil Jones and Marco Rojo return from injury United may continue to put up clean sheets. As they grow familiar with one another Blind and Smalling should only get better.
4. On the other hand…
That sentiment doesn’t extend to Sergio Romero. Krul’s save on Chicharito not only kept Newcastle all square it emphasized the lack of quality on display at the opposite end. In those moments when the Magpies moved forward United fans could only sigh in relief when a cross sailed over everyone’s head or a pass to an overlapping full back was off the mark. Romero was nowhere near Mitrovic’s header in the first half and too slow to get down on a pair of shots that trickled just wide in the second. He flailed badly at Cissé’s cross as well. To date United have been extremely fortunate that their keeper has not been asked to make the type of game-saving stops that the benched David de Gea has routinely pulled off for the past three years.
The situation with the Spanish keeper has become intolerable. I see absolutely no reason to sit him until the window closes. If Van Gaal thinks De Gea untrustworthy while a move is still possible why would the youngster suddenly turn reliable when it’s finally ruled out? If he is petulant now he’ll only be bitter in September. If you’re going to keep him, Louis, play him now before the Argentine is exposed. If not sell. Just make sure that Keylor Navas is part of the deal. If you thought your side pushed their luck today try relying on Sergio Romero to backstop you to a Premier League title.