Manchester United put last week’s disappointing performance behind them as they romped to a 3-0 win at Newcastle.
It was the perfect response after the appalling display against Spurs last Saturday, and it was nothing short of what United deserved for their defensive effort and twenty, scintillating minutes of attacking football.
United had failed to score in their last two league outings at Saint James’s Park and were trounced 3-0 when they last visited Tyneside back in January.
Coincidentally, that defeat came after United had lost 3-2 at home, not the most comforting of omens going into today’s game.
Sir Alex Ferguson had unveiled an attacking United side against Cluj in the Champions League and decided to adopt a bold approach against Newcastle as well.
David De Gea returned to the starting XI in the league after missing the last two games as Fergie continued his puzzling exercise of rotating the two goalkeepers.
The Spaniard and Lindegaard are both extremely talented, but it takes a huge stretch of imagination – or blind faith in Sir Alex – to see how the process could beneficial rather than detrimental.
An unchanged back four provided cover for a midfield comprising local lad Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa, with Wayne Rooney supporting Danny Welbeck and Robin Van Persie up front, with Antonio Valencia on the bench and Nani not even included in the team.
The line-up represented not only a bold approach but also perhaps the biggest tactical leap United have made in years as rather than a traditional 4-4-2 they lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Welbeck and Van Persie switching positions up front.
A week ago against Spurs, United had registered their first attempt after 45′ minutes, today they had two in the first seven as Danny Welbeck and Robin Van Persie forced two saves from Steve Harper.
Welbeck should have done better after Jonny Evans’ brilliant back-heel had opened the space for him, while Van Persie’s flick won United a corner, through which they scored their first of the day.
Van Persie’s delivery was brilliantly met by the head of Jonny Evans – a former Sunderland loanee, a fact surely not lost on the home fans –
who put United in front with only eight minutes played.
Newcastle were rocked and United pushes forward producing some fantastic football.
Rafael exchanged passes with RVP before rushing into the penalty box, only for his shot to end a whisker wide of Harper’s far post.
On the subsequent goal-kick, Danny Welbeck forced Harper into a mistake and dispossessed the Newcastle keeper but couldn’t keep his composure and his shot bobbled wide with an open goal at his mercy.
A minute later Wayne Rooney forced a fantastic save from Steve Harper, with a well struck free-kick.
From the resulting corner Patrice Evra profited of some atrocious defending by the home side to head home United’s second of the game.
Evra has long been considered a liability at the back, but his performance today was as authoritarian as any since he joined the club.
With Newcastle shellshocked, United, perhaps understandably, sat back a little inviting on the pressure from Alan Pardew’s side.
Gutierrez saw his shot ending just wide of De Gea’s post as United withstood an aerial bombardment, despite the young Spaniard looking far from comfortable when dealing with high balls.
The Magpies started the second half in the same fashion and thought they had pulled one back as Papiss Cisse headed towards the goal after Demba Ba’s header had rattled the bar.
Cisse’s header was saved by De Gea with the ball seemingly not entirely over the line, as United escaped.
Five minutes later Ba headed wide and Valencia replaced Shinji Kagawa to bolster up the midfield where United were starting feel the wrath of Newcastle’s physicality.
With an hour gone, Tom Cleverley fired over the bar after some excellent work from Danny Welbeck on the left flank.
Welbeck today confirmed what has been known for quite a while, his runs and movement are excellent – his pressing high-up the pitch denied Newcastle an easy option to begin their plays with – but his finish and composure under pressure still need to be polished.
Wayne Rooney forced a good save from Steve Harper before Tom Cleverley sealed the three points for the visitors with something in between a ballistic masterpiece and a fluke as he found the top corner from 25 yards out.
There was only time for Wayne Rooney – superb in a deeper role today, a roaming Rooney with license to dictate the tempo could be immensely more effective and dangerous as the Liverpudlian tends to get frustrated when he’s not involved – and Robin Van Persie to be replaced by Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and for the superb travelling fans to poke fun of their Geordie counterparts as they compared Alan Shearer and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s value for money.
A first win on Tyneside for two years, a clean sheet and the feeling that this line-up could give United the opportunity to regain the “fear factor” that had somewhat vanished in the last few weeks.
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