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After a disappointing loss against Spurs, it was time for Manchester United to make a statement. Coming into the Sports Direct Arena 7 points off Chelsea, it was an opportunity to put things right and get back to 2nd spot. To some fans’ surprise, United lined up with a diamond-shaped midfield and caused problems for Newcastle from the start. Within the first 20 minutes, United played their best football of the season and the domination paid off with two goals resulting from corners. Despite Newcastle finding their way back into the match, the United backline dealt with every challenge they encountered and had able support from the midfield. For the first time this season, we looked like a unit from back to front.
United’s backline: All of them were fantastic. In particular, Evra had a great match and the goal seemed to spur him on. Rarely put a foot wrong and his performance was quite similar to his 07/08 days. I am one of his harshest critics but I had nothing but praise for him. Rio showed his class once again as he kept Cisse and Ba in his pocket, marshaling the defence whilst strengthening his partnership with Evans. Roy, are you watching? Another impressive performance from Evans who should have had an assist if it wasn’t for Welbeck’s poor finish. Opened the scoring for United and never looked back, rarely looked troubled and his late run showed he’s got a fair bit of pace on him as well.
Last but not least, Rafael showed maturity and poise against a tricky Ben Arfa. The diminutive winger only got by the United right-back a couple times but Rafael made sure his impact was kept to a minimum. His run in the side is becoming the making of him and he looks to have had the right-back slot all but nailed down. I only see him not playing due to rest or to let Jones/Smalling gain minutes. At the tender age of 22, he’s already showcasing the talent which could see him billed as the top right back in the league.
Tom Cleverley: Despite Rooney’s masterful display, Tom was just as impressive. He kept hassling the opposition throughout the match and was intelligent with his passing and movement. He never stopped running even when it was close to full time. He linked up well with Rooney and Carrick especially as he showed Sir Alex he deserves a run of games in the side. There’s been some debate about whether or not he meant to shoot it for United’s third. I think he did, but I it probably won’t happen again for sometime. It doesn’t discount the fact what a worldie it was. Regardless of interpretation, that has to be a goal of the season contender. Not many finishes are as accurate as that, it was a beautiful goal to watch.
“You could see by the way that we started that we wanted to come out and put on a good performance. I think the main thing was that we defended and attacked as a team. We were a real unit out there and we made it hard for a good Newcastle side.”
(excerpt of Evans’ comments on the match)
Compared to last week, United’s balance was absolutely spot on. The energy from midfield ensured Newcastle didn’t enjoy much time on the ball while also providing cover for each other and United’s back four. The organization meant Newcastle were mostly forced to the wings and long balls to Ba and Cisse. Sir Alex may not get credit for being a tactician but he made a key change 25 minutes into the match which meant United kept their shape. Although we started brightly, Cleverley and Carrick kept getting separated and at times were too far apart to knit play through the center. This also meant gaps began to appear. Fergie recognized this after Rooney had to cover for him and moved Cleverley to the left side of the diamond. It worked a treat as Tom used his industry and energy to hassle Newcastle’s midfield and ensured our tempo never dropped with the urgency in his passing. He was everywhere.
Our fullbacks did a great job of staying disciplined and seeing out the danger with calmness and poise. It was interesting to see Rafael and Kagawa constantly communicating with each other as they sought to nullify Newcastle’s threat on the right wing. Combine these elements with a cohesive centre-back pairing of Ferdinand and Evans, and Newcastle simply had to feed on scraps (if any) throughout the match.
It has to be said, when this man is in form, Manchester United are on another level. Playing at the tip of the diamond, Rooney was at his best. From orchestrating play to tracking back to providing outlet passes to ease pressure, Rooney was in his element. Tactically, where he played wasn’t too different from last season when he dropped on many occasions to accompany for Carrick and Scholes’ lack of mobility. However, our shape yesterday meant he was able to link up with teammates and become more involved in our general flow. My only criticism is he could have played a bit higher and offered more support for Van Persie. Nonetheless, he put in a wonderful defensive shift and was integral to a strong team performance.
Anyone else scream at him to pass the ball to Van Persie after he worked so hard to win the ball from Harper? I couldn’t believe he wasted that chance and it summed up his day. Ran his socks off but in front of goal, repeatedly came up short. He could have done better on Evans’ layoff and his touch let him down more than usual. As disappointed as I was, the lad’s 21, he will have much better days and this was a great learning experience for him. He looked a bit rushed in everything he did and it won’t be long before his composure and confidence returns. Strikers just need that one goal and their whole world changes. I’m sure it’s the same for Danny.
Really shone in the first 20 minutes as most of our attacks came from his side. He began to fade as he stuck to his defensive duties and couldn’t get involved enough in advanced areas to make much of an impact. From my discussion with other fans on Kagawa’s performance, I don’t think he needs to really bulk up. At the most, he needs to work on core strength. There are other players who are slight and doing well in the league (Silva and Mata notably). It took Silva some time to adjust to the league and once he settled, he turned in some fine performances. Furthermore, it’s important United fans remember Kagawa is a team player and he needs support from his fellow teammates. It will be interesting to see where he plays when Rooney is in the team. At this point, Rooney is playing well so there’s little chance Sir Alex will put Kagawa where Rooney played yesterday. Judging from what we’ve seen so far, the left side is probably his best option. It will allow him to drift in while Evra joins the attack and add more penetration through the middle of our attack. I’d urge fans to be patient. We all witnessed his quality at the beginning of the season and it won’t be long before he plays in his favored position. One way or another, I’m confident he’ll show his class.
Like Welbeck, he wasn’t at his best against Newcastle. There were a few scares as he was either too eager to get to the ball when he should have left it for the defenders, or he didn’t come strong enough to catch it. It’s obvious the media will highlight his mistakes despite Harper’s major blunder. It was a good test for David and it’s good he can play in these type of matches. It will bode well for him as he continues to develop and hone his craft at United. Despite his performance, should Sir Alex persist with him and play him against Stoke? I think he can handle it and one of the few ways he can show his teammates and the rest of the world, he’s capable of commanding his own area.
After witnessing displays where United only turned it on for at most, one half of football, it was pleasing to see an excellent team performance from start to finish. Newcastle couldn’t live us for those first 20 minutes and if Welbeck had finished his chance after stealing the ball from Harper, it could have been a rout. We dealt with everything they threw at us. The difference between yesterday and the performance against Spurs is truly night and day. Now, we are back to 2nd boasting the most goals scored in the Prem with 17. United also have 13 different scorers this term which is a great statistic. Taking into account United have yet to hit top form as a team, opposition defences should be wary. When things begin to click, we’re going to look quite lethal and instill fear into our opponents as we did before with the trio of Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney. Once normal service resumes in the league, it will be an opportunity for United to do just this and build on a performance where we threw the gauntlet down.
Now the message is clear. Manchester United are back in business.