Manchester United overcome a spirited Newcastle side on Sunday evening. In the first half, we were unable to cope with their press as they pushed us back into our own half. It was through the individual brilliance of Marcus Rashford skipping past Emil Krafth, cutting inside, and rifling his shot into the corner of the goal that put us in front. The lead did not last long, as we conceded from another set-piece when Allan Saint-Maximin scored Newcastle’s equaliser.
The second half saw United get a bit better in terms of their performance. Dan James capped his fine performance with a goal and Bruno Fernandes converted the penalty to give us a 3-1 victory. The result moved us back to second in the table on goal difference but still 10 points behind league leaders Manchester City.
Here is a look at five things we learned from the game.
1. Europa League Hangover
United had a good performance against Real Sociedad on Thursday evening. You would have thought the players would have been brimming with confidence going into the Newcastle game. As we have done for the majority of games this season, we started off slow. Thankfully we did not concede an early goal as we have done previously.
However, the whole team had an uncomfortable start as we looked sluggish. It could be argued they had been suffering from their trip to Italy. The Europa League has often been used as an excuse for a not so good performance in the league after playing on Thursday nights. An extra midweek fixture at this point of the season can be a toll on the players.
United lacked the same tempo that swept away Real Sociedad. The win shows how far we have come as a team though. Probably last season and the season before, we would have drawn or even lost this game. The win takes us back to second place in the league but more crucially it opens the gap up between our top four rivals with West Ham (4), Chelsea (6) and Liverpool (9).
2. Fred and Matic lacked control in the midfield
From the start of the game, United just could not get any control. This was largely down to Matic and Fred not taking the initiative in the midfield. Both players were guilty of misplaced passes, not keeping possession, meaning we were not able to build any attacking momentum. Matic’s inclusion was the result of the injury Scott McTominay picked up against Real Sociedad. With McTominay and Pogba absent, it presents a problem in the midfield.
Matic and Fred were both playing in the same areas as each other. One of them needed to play further forward whilst the other sat back. It could be argued you did not need to play two defensive midfielders.
United was having to rely on Bruno Fernandes’s creativity. Tonight he looked frustrated and often isolated despite converting a penalty and assisting on Dan James’ goal.
3. Daniel James took his opportunity
The Welsh winger has struggled for form this season. At points this season when he has featured, he has been criticised for his performances. Ole repaid the faith in James by starting him again against Newcastle after his excellent display on Thursday evening.
He is now in a good run of form scoring in the last three games. James used his pace to run into space, taking on the opposition defence. He put some dangerous crosses into the box and was tracking back to help out the United defence. It was a nice finish from him for his goal as he put in another fine display.
James still has more work to do if he wants to keep his place in the side. He has certainly given manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær something to think about as he decides who will take the position on the right flank in the longer term.
4. Will United ever learn how to defend a set-piece
We had taken the lead through Marcus Rashford’s goal in the 30th minute. However, our lead lasted just a mere six minutes. Newcastle United posed a threat throughout the first half as they pressed us back and had some joy through set-pieces. United partially cleared a corner, but Maguire’s header was misplaced and Allan Saint-Maximin latched onto the loose ball. He then hit a 20-yard shot that De Gea couldn’t stop from hitting the back of the net.
It was not like United wasn’t warned beforehand. Only seconds before Newcastle’s equaliser, our players were so unaware of the unmarked opposition players, and we failed to close down Saint-Maximin quick enough.
This season our attacking talent has covered our deficiencies at the back. We do not seem to have a structure as both Maguire and Lindelof looked shaky at points throughout the game.
5. Martial offered so little
Anthony Martial was hardly in the game against Newcastle United. He looked static, not showing movement or being in the box ready and waiting for a cross to come in. His performances are in stark contrast to those of Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan has since become our first choice forward. Martial waits on the pitch looking for others to create something. The game just passed him by on Sunday evening.
This season has been like no other. The physical and mental demands are even more heightened. Maybe Martial is a player that thrives on a crowd being inside the stadium.
He has only scored four league goals despite us being the top scorers in the league. Martial is lacking confidence and maybe some time out of the starting eleven, might be best for him in the long run.