Newcastle – Manchester United saw the Red Devils once again under-perform and under-deliver for 85 minutes, only to be bailed out by the brilliance of Bruno Fernandes, as they snatched a misleading 4-1 victory at St. James’ Park on Saturday.
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Fernandes ran the full gamut of emotions in the win over Newcastle United — from his early disallowed goal, to the penalty kick he saw saved, to his spectacular winner in the 86th minute — as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side looked well off the pace of a side with Premier League title aspirations.
3 things we learned: Newcastle – Manchester United
1. Fernandes papers over the cracks… again: No one will be more delighted than Solskjaer as he is likely to retain his position for another day, but how many times can one superstar bail out a lame-duck manager in one season? Perhaps 2020-21 will provide the answer to that question, as Fernandes has picked up right where he finished last season and nearly singlehandedly dragged Man United to three points yet again.
2. Man United’s parts still greater than the whole: For all of the talented individuals on the books at Man United — and there are a great many of them — the final on-field product falls well short of even the most generous of expectations. For the first 80 minutes on Saturday, Man United’s three best scoring chances (read: not hopeful shots from 20-plus yards) all came from set pieces or the penalty spot. Against Newcastle, who defend as deep as anyone in the PL, Man United had zero clever ideas. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to play the game, if you’re a bottom-half team focused solely on remaining in the PL. If you’re Man United, however, it’s just another sign of how far a once-great club has fallen.
3. Newcastle’s tactics also holding them back: Here’s one thing we know with absolute certainty: everything — as in, everything — is up for grabs this season in the PL. That means the title race, the top-four race, top-six, top-half, and on and on. Someone — or, someones — will rise up from seemingly out of nowhere and surge up the table to make an unexpected push for a place well above their typical place in the PL landscape. All of that is to say, why shouldn’t it be Newcastle? Of all the non-top-six, non-Everton and non-Leicester sides, they have arguably the most talent up and down their squad. And yet, week after week, they’re held back by Steve Bruce’s ultra-pragmatic approach, no matter who they’re up against. There’s a case to be made that Bruce was the perfect manager for a possible relegation battle last season, but now the Magpies have a chance to do something special, if only they could attack teams on the front foot and attempt to control games.
Newcastle went 1-0 ahead after 103 seconds, and there wasn’t much Man United could have done about it. Jonjo Shelvey found Emil Krafth down the right flank and played the Swede into acres of space. Krafth crossed the ball into the box, but Shaw got a foot to it not far away and sent the ball bounding high into the air and the opposite direction to which David de Gea was moving.
Man United enjoyed the lion’s share of possession from that moment onward but created very little without Fernandes at the heart of play. He put the ball in the back of the net with a blistering strike from the corner of the penalty area, but the Portuguese saw his goal ruled out after Juan Mata was a half-yard offside before playing the ball back to Fernandes.
Four minutes later, in the 23rd, Harry Maguire rose above Federico Fernandez to head home Mata’s corner kick and pull Man United level.
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De Gea denied Callum Wilson on the first golden scoring chance in the second half. Wilson got on the end of a Jamal Lewis cross and poked the ball toward goal from six yards out. He didn’t get enough on the finish, though, as De Gea was able to quickly dive to his left and palm the ball away.
Karl Darlow added to his string of standout performances when he denied Fernandes from the penalty spot in the 58th minute. Lewis was deemed, following video review, to have fouled Marcus Rashford atop the penalty area. Shelvey, marking the near post, heroically headed the ball off the line after Maguire sent it goal-bound once again from the ensuing corner kick.
Rashford deserves a healthy share of credit on the winner as well, because it was his long dribble and clever pass that set up Fernandes for an incredibly tough finish from a tight angle near the end line. Rashford cut the ball back for Fernandes, who dropped his shoulder and lifted it over Darlow and into the upper-90 at the far post.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Rashford added goals in the 90th and 95th minutes to make the final score far more comfortable than the 90 minutes had actually been.