“How did Manchester United not win this game?” is the question on everyone’s lips after an amazing 1-1 draw at Old Trafford between the Red Devils and the Geordies from Tyneside. United created tons of chances, with everything from a great goalkeeper and posts, to miraculous goal-line clearances keeping them at bay. It must be frustrating for United to see their two best performances in a while end in draws, after strangling out poor 1-0 wins for many games running now.
As United-Newcastle games go it was a fairly entertaining game as both sides played well, and all players performed their duties admirably well. But what did the separate teams go out to do exactly?
United’s central midfield pairing was the same at it was for the latter stages of last season, with Giggsy and Carrick filling the roles in the middle. Rio and Vidic again found themselves protecting David De Gea, with Evra and Fabio taking up the full backs. And with Young returning for his first Premier League game since City, partnered by Nani on the other wing, there was one thing United was going to focus on today – Width! We saw how well Nani and Valencia did in midweek creating tons of chances, but if there is one thing we lacked before the Benfica game it was overlapping full backs. Jones, for all his raids, is not a good crosser of the ball, and the same goes for Chris Smalling. This makes it even more difficult for Nani, as he often finds himself two or three against one. Park does not offer much width on the left wing either. So with Fabio and Young getting back in the team we were going back to the traditional Manchester United way of playing by getting it wide with all winged players bombing forward.
It did not quite work in the first half, although Newcastle went with the same approach they did against City last weekend. Guthrie and Cabaye really forced our hand in the middle, and their main pressing came at the middle of the park. When we managed to get the ball wide we looked more dangerous, but it did not really come from the left side. Evra seemed to back off when the opportunity of going forward arrived, probably fearing Obertan’s pace. The big-headed Frenchman stuck to his attacking duties and did not track back at all during the first half, and with Guthrie and Simpson taking care of Young we did not get forward from the left side. Giggsy’s movement was kept central, and he got our best chance of the half. Obviously not fearing the pace of Gutierrez, Fabio was able to overlap time and time again, and it was his great cross that met Giggsy’s flick and forced Krul into a great save. Rooney and Hernandez were easily contained by Collochini and Taylor, although the little Mexican managed to create more room for roaming players by standing high up the pitch. He got to a few shots, none of which really threatened the Newcastle goalkeeper.
Although Obertan was not really a feared figured during his time at Manchester United, he does have some pace about him. With Newcastle doing all their pressing in the middle, their only attacking work would come from the wings. Gutierrez on the left chance never really got there, as Ryan Taylor kept back and Cabaye kept his focus on Young and Rooney. Obertan became the main figure, and all their attacks went through him. Evra, knowing he does not possess any end product, let him run into areas where he forced his hand. Only one time did Obertan deliver an “acceptable” cross, which led to a Cabaye shot from 20 yards hit straight into the hands of De Gea. Newcastle rarely threatened, and it came as no surprise that United took the lead early in the second half.
Again, our attack started on the right side, where some wonderful interchanging passes between Rooney and Nani ended in a free kick from just outside the area. As Rooney lined up to take the free kick, you could see Taylor creeping back to his post. Hernandez saw this, and got him closer to the goal. Rooney’s first shot was poor, but his second shot was cleared into the stomached of a Hernandez, who had gotten almost criminally close to Krul and Taylor, and into the goal. Newcastle were now forced to attack and got their equaliser from a, let us call it “soft”, penalty. The less said about it the better…
From this point on, the match exploded! Alan Pardew’s decision to sub off Obertan helped us an awful lot, as Evra was now able to help out Young in attack. We became more dangerous from the wings, and it is a shame that none of our forwards are able to get themselves in a position at the back post following a Young cross. How often have you seen Ashley deliver the ball to the back post, with no-one there? It is frustrating to say the least, but we were getting forward and creating chances. Fabio and Evra both had close efforts, and United should have had a corner when Taylor’s brilliant tackle stopped Young from poking the ball into an empty net. Fabio and Evra were both bombing forward, with Giggsy helping out on both wings now. During the first half we had seen the Welshman only centrally, but after Gutierrez’ stupid red card he was bombing on both wings, swinging crosses in. Vidic, Macheda and Hernandez all got on the end of them, only to see them either wide or hit straight at Krul.
Rooney was disappointing when on the ball, but without it he was vital for our attacking play. He manages to drag two or three defenders on him, leading to more room for his strike partners. Hernandez had a header blocked on the line by Simpson, after Young had hit the post minutes earlier. How we did not score five or six in this game was unbelievable, as Newcastle did not really defend well. They seemed nervous when they had the ball, and when we got it wide it seemed like nobody knew who to mark in the middle. They rode their luck though, and managed to leave Old Trafford with a point. United fans should be delighted to see a performance like this again, although the result is not much to show for. Finally we are seeing the attacking, free flowing Manchester United again, and if not for a ridiculous penalty it could have been another clean sheet.
In hindsight, there can be questions asked about United’s prolific instinct in front of goal. But let me ask you, how can you score on days like this? We were never going to score from central areas as Newcastle packed that. They always had two or three men on Rooney, and although the Englishman had a poor performance it was he that created our only goal of the game. There were not many great options on the bench, although we got more danger in the air by bringing on Macheda. Had Fletcher played, we may have gotten more deep runs into the box, but we would have missed the crossing of Giggsy. Carrick played really well, but I wonder if he would have finished the game if we had Fletch on the bench. When we were swinging crosses in, Fletcher would have been a much bigger threat than Michael, who has not scored since January 2010.
Our next game is away to Villa, which should be an entertaining encounter. The current Villa side have not impressed anyone so far this season, and have conceded countless goals from crosses swung into the box. Do not be surprised if you see Fabio starting again next week, his runs are vital for this team.