Reaction from Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Newcastle United.
…on such foundations only can a title be won. United’s response to going behind was impressive and emphatic, but owing to the individual spark of genius from Paul Pogba. Prior to his shimmy which created the space for his cross for Martial’s equaliser, Newcastle were good value for their lead and looked as if they might capitalise on further uncertainty in the host’s defence.
Victor Lindelof, given the nod ahead of the returning Marcos Rojo, looked to be the fall guy for that goal. His slip as he struggled to deal with the mass of black and white shirts around him was a symbolic one which will do him no favours but as poor as he was on the goal, he wasn’t helped by his team-mates. Ashley Young was out of position and Chris Smalling gambled and got it wrong. We have been heavily critical of Smalling on the site and the pod but this wasn’t one of his worst decisions; it was just an error that happens to many. Lindelof was exposed and any one of three Newcastle players might have scored.
If this was a scenario from two weeks ago you might have wondered how United would get back into it and indeed, that question probably entered the mind of a fair few at Old Trafford anyway. They won’t always be able to count on Pogba and sooner or later the hard truth is going to have to be confronted. As well as they have done to fit in (and Young’s delivery again helped United out of a hole) and as well organised as Mourinho generally has them drilled, United will not get away with playing wingers at full back and it remains doubtful that they can build a title-winning defence with Chris Smalling featuring as a starter.
Told you so
Once upon a time this season four goal scorelines were commonplace; that fairytale period happened to occur when Paul Pogba was fit (with a couple afterwards). Pogba returns and United, after an early hiccup, look more like their old fluid self. It’s almost as if missing the best player in the team, and then putting him back in, has the profound effect you would expect.
Attack attack attack
Okay, so here’s the thing with this comment, it may look ridiculous after United won with four goals, but there was something not quite fluid about fielding all three of Martial, Rashford and Lukaku. It wasn’t quite the bonanza which was presented by the Berbatov, Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo quartet provided in the April 2009 game against Spurs but the truth is that in general, such an approach rarely pays the dividends you would think it might, because, simply, balance is key.
Those in favour of how it will went will point to Rashford’s contribution as opposed to that of Mkhitaryan lately and yes, on those grounds, there is merit. That is not the start and end of the argument. There has been immense value in the usage of Rashford and Martial so far, with it either working from the start or invariably working when one comes on to attack tired legs and minds. With Paul Pogba back, it may be worth giving the Armenian a second chance to rediscover his form, or at least give Lingard a run. The value of having, say, a Martial on the bench may be far greater in the long run.
Fortress Old Trafford
Oh, wait, what? David Moyes lost six home games in sixteen league games at the Theatre of Dreams. Louis van Gaal lost three home games in his first season and two in his second.
It is a point missed by some, although to be fair, the stat of United being unbeaten at home since last September has been one of the prominent ones of the day. Still, it feels as if the context in which Mourinho has achieved such a feat has been glossed over. That solitary defeat under his stewardship in front of his own fans came against Manchester City, a result which may not have been the way it was if Claudio Bravo had been correctly been sent off.
There is definitely a case of the fear factor being restored at Old Trafford. Newcastle’s start tonight caught United on the hop because of its rareness; most other teams, and by most you can say all but Manchester City, have come to Old Trafford looking to go with a point and building from that as the hosts became frustrated. That has been an obstacle the manager has had to deal with but at least he has done it by making the stadium an uncompromising place to come to. It is not the be all and end all but it is a refreshing bonus and shouldn’t be underestimated in the current climate of constant criticism for the manager.