Man of the match: Wayne Rooney may have started one of his good spells. We see it once or twice a year – a span where the Manchester United attacker looks like one of the best players in the world. He wasn’t quite up to that standard on Sunday, but at this rate, Rooney might be at that level for next week’s match against Stoke City. Still, in recording two assists while serving as the link between United’s midfield and attack, Rooney was the best of a strong Red Devil squad.
The two assists are a bit of misleading, though. One came on a corner kick. The other was a simple ball ahead of a remarkable goal. But even without the assists, Rooney was United’s most impressive player. His play behind the forwards in United’s 4-3-1-2 formation hinted Alex Ferguson may figuring out the right deployment for his wealth of attacking talent.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Manchester United is so inconsistent, you never want to make judgments based on the lineups. Newcastle’s XI, though – particularly their back five – looked like they were going to be in trouble:
- The Magpies had second choice `keeper Steven Harper in goal. He’s not bad, but he’s a clear step back from the Tim Krul, out injured.
- Under normal circumstances, the difference between Krul and Harper wouldn’t be noticed, particularly over a mere 90 minutes, but with a 21-year-old Shane Ferguson starting to the left of a James Perch-Mike Williamson pair, Harper looked likely to be tested often. Either that or defensive midfielder Chiek Tiote was going to have to have a huge day.
- United started a very attack-oriented team (no surprise): Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie up top, Rooney behind them, with Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley playing the wide midfielders in a 4-3-1-2.
- Eight minutes in, Manchester United had 89 percent of the Opta possession. That’s also when they opened the scoring, a near post corner from van Persie finding Jonny Evans, who out-jumped Williamson to make it 1-0.
- Eight minutes later (in the 16th minute), United were up two, Patrice Evra beating Demba Ba to head home a corner from Rooney.
- Whether it was Newcastle’s awakening or Manchester United letting up, the game evened out after the second goal. United wouldn’t register a shot for the rest of the half, their possession going from 80 percent (at the time of Evra’s goal) to 60 percent (at halftime). Each of Newcastle’s eight first half shots came after the second goal, though none of them tested David de Gea.
- The match also saw five yellow cards handed out in the 24-minute period after the Evra goal. Howard Webb would go on to book eight players overall.
- The second half avoided the first’s bipolarity, leveling off into a match United was destined to win. After Cleverley made it 3-0 with a great, curling goal inside the right post from 25 yards out, the Red Devils started taking off their stars.
- And most of the time, that’s a good shorthand for how a match has gone. If all you were told about this match were United’s subs – Kagawa, Rooney, then van Persie – you’d know United won big.
- For Newcastle, it was a match they were destined to lose. They weren’t set up to beat United in midfield, which would have left a second choice defense sitting ducks even without the early corner kick conversions.
- For United, the performance showed continued improvement, which is all Ferguson wants at this time of year. It’s half fable, half fact: Ferguson tries to get his team clicking by the new year. With that in mind, he’ll spend the next three months tweaking, hoping United will be at their best when the stakes escalate. Today was a good tweak.