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Fourth travelled to second and left with a point to leave Man United four points shy of City who have a game in hand. A side with a more settled look was picked by Fergie against Newcastle operating with Demba Ba as a lone front man. The game would be largely forgettable until half-time and from then on in it provided plenty of areas for discussion. Here we discuss the talking points from the match and invite both United and Newcastle fans to join in the discussion.
United’s last two games at home have been as entertaining as any in the past 6-7 weeks. Quick, incisive attacking football has lead to open games with United creating plenty of chances. The problem is that both games have been drawn.
There seems to be an odd correlation between playing well and winning games. To my mind Man City are the only team that consistently play well and win; however as we’ve seen, to get to that point they’ve had to incur a loss of £197m in the last year. Arsenal tend to play good football but have mixed results whilst I’ve enjoyed watching Spurs a lot lately – however they too are not always winners.
United’s solid run of clean sheets and wins that was halted by Benfica midweek was typified by tight defending, unimaginative football and solidity. It had been hard-watching yet the wins were racking up.
It begs the question of whether a team, this United side in particular can play good, entertaining football and win consistently. Older fans will often remind younger supporters of how poor United were in the 70s and 80s and are quick to remind us that success today won’t last forever. Some fans would even prefer to watch entertaining football and not win than watch dour displays and get the full three points.
Personally I’ve never known anything other than regular success and therefore find myself erring towards the ‘I’d like to win however possible’. Fergie said post-match, “if we play like that every week, I’ll be very happy” and I am inclined to agree but ultimately the points matter. What do you think?
Who’d be a referee?
Mike Jones gives out more cards per game than any other referee in the league. His average is nearly 5 yellow’s per match and day he dished out 6 yellow cards and one red card.
When Jones assesses his performance later I think he’ll be rather pleased with his officiating. He was good in not awarding pointless free kicks against goalkeepers because they’ve jumped into a player; he was good with the use of his cards; and importantly, he got the penalty decision spot-on.
Sounds like an odd thing to say considering Rio Ferdinand clearly cleanly wins the ball rather than fouling Hatem Ben Arfa as shown below:
Rio wins the ball
So how can a clean tackle be made; an incorrect penalty awarded; and yet the referee made the right decision?
The referee correctly didn’t award a penalty initially however his view was blocked and the linesman who had a clear view waved his flag to indicate a foul had been made. Given that the linesman had the better view, the referee was right to go over and talk to him and upon his recommendation, award a penalty.
There’s no doubt that it was the wrong decision from the linesman but Mike Jones is not to blame for doing his job correctly and taking on board the advice of the official who could see the incident, albeit incorrectly.
Referee and linesman positioning just before the tackle (the linesman has a clear view)
The referee’s position as the tackle is made (his view is blocked)
United’s chances and Newcastle’s defending
“The second half was just an onslaught”
That was Ferguson’s reaction post-match. After 29 efforts on goal United scored just one solitary goal and even that had an element of fortune as a clearance was smashed into Hernandez’s body and went in. Was it a case of poor finishing from United or good defending from Newcastle? A bit of both really. United’s finishing was fairly accurate with the BBC calculating 13 shots on target – Krul made excellent key saves and various shots were cleared off the line or hit the post; however there was a lack of clinicalness amongst United’s forward play.
Newcastle will feel they defended well. In reality they didn’t. Any team that concedes nearly 30 shots in a game hasn’t defended well. What Newcastle did do well though was ‘desperate defending’ – the throwing of bodies in front of shots and scrambling balls of the line; the last-minute, disorganised type of defending. It was committed and from the John-Terry-lion-heart school of passion.
29 Man United shots and 11 Newcastle blocks (all within the penalty area)
Each side had individual heroes and villains. For United, Hernandez who’s so often calm, composed and deadly in front of goal, played the role of a semi-villain. He scored despite not knowing much about the goal but was guilty of quite a few misses; being offside at crucial moments; and his final ball was often indecisively wrong. Harsh it might sound but today was not his finest performance:
Javier Hernandez shots
For Newcastle, the heroes at the back were Krul, S Taylor and Simpson. Krul came up with some outstanding saves and reaffirmed that he’s one of the best up-and-coming young goalkeepers in the league. At times he was panicky with his kicking but his handling, reflexes and reactions were excellent. Steven Taylor put in an immense performance for Newcastle, winning tackles, headers and making an amazing five blocks. Danny Simpson on his return to Old Trafford was inspired – he dealt with Nani, Young and Evra very well and as well as making goal-line blocks, he had an impressive 100% clearance success rate.
S Taylor blocks and Simpson clearances
I find myself coming to the conclusion that as well as Newcastle defended, United’s inability to take their chances mattered more. Nine times out of ten, United would have scored at least three or four goals from those chances today, in which case Newcastle’s defending would not have looked quite so special. You cannot concede that many attempts on goal and be praised for good defending!
First up, David De Gea. He was once again first class. His handling was excellent in tricky conditions with the ball skidding off the wet surface; he appears much more assured on crosses and corners; his distribution is often alarmingly accurate; and he made one magnificent save in the second half – a truly world class moment of goalkeeping. Already in three months he’s come a long way and is now looking like a very good goalkeeper.
Next, I want to quickly touch upon positioning and influence. I felt our wide players were poor today. Young and Nani both were not as involved as they maybe should have been and often had a poor final delivery. Young generally stuck to the left and looked at times rusty – the theory that he only ever plays as well as those around him are playing is garnering more evidence; we’re yet to see him rise above his team-mates and be a consistent match-winner. By contrast Nani was all over the pitch trying to get involved as shown by his heatmap below. He was often infuriating but his greed is what makes him the important player he is, he can win a game at any time with a moment of magic. Talking of positioning, Rooney was quite static. His influence on the game was minimal despite being credited with the assist for the United goal. Whether Newcastle marked him out of the game or not was a bit unclear but he was in the periphery of goings on. Usually he’s a live-wire getting all over the pitch but today as shown by his heatmap he didn’t venture as far as he usually would. What’s particularly worrying is how little time he’s spending in the penalty area at the moment.
Nani and Rooney passing heatmaps
For the third game in a row, Michael Carrick stood out and was probably United’s best player again. Calm in possession and much like Scholes was, always a few phases ahead of the play, he made things tick over nicely today. His one touch passing is superb and his ability to spread play and change the focus of a move is vital. He continues to defy those who don’t believe he can pass forwards as he not only launched attacks but also got involved high up the pitch in moves. His defensive work was also top notch again, tackling, intercepting and in general forcing an error out of the opposition. He has a great knack of knowing when to shield an opponent and when to make a tackle – buying crucial seconds for his team-mates to get into position before he commits himself. He’s now arguably one of the first names on the teamsheet and in just three games he’s shown why he’s so crucial to the team.
The fullback areas of the team haven’t always been solid this season. The right back role has changed hands many times and Evra has often been sub-par. Today however Fabio and Evra were excellent. In attack they provided good support and both could have scored. However it was in defence they impressed me. Yes, Obertan was able to get a couple of balls in but they won most of their tackles and often did so high up the pitch to start an attack. Fabio got his customary yellow card but would have hopefully given Sir Alex food for thought with a very solid all-round display.
Evra and Fabio tackling
The performance but not the result. With the intensity and desire to attack it was a showing associated with a classic United side, but it just lacked the crucial final product. More showings like that will be welcomed as goals are certain to start to flow if that many chances are regularly made.
The linesman’s decision was unfortunate but it shouldn’t become an excuse for the dropped points; United should be able to rely on their own qualities to win games. Still, it feels surprisingly easy to pick positives out of the game and despite the fact Man City can now go 7 points clear, United are getting into a rhythm. One must remember by the way that not only is this a team in transition but there’s still 25 games of the league season to go, nothing is won or lost yet.
Talking of transition, the next game is on Wednesday against Crystal Palace. Fergie has been referring to a ‘lapse’ recently – saying he’s aware the midfield needs something but sometimes there has to be a short spell where the team must get by without the ideal player there. Specifically he’s been referring to talent in the Reserves and Academy – he knows we have the quality there but he also knows they’re not yet ready for the first team regularly. One player who might be though is Ravel Morrison – he was again in the matchday squad for this game and is surely set for his first start against Palace.
Onwards and upwards. If the kids can prove their worth against Palace then slowly the new United may start to emerge out of the gloomy transition period. We did it 6-7 years ago and it can take time to get right as players mature and adjust but this will have been a good learning curve for those involved and those watching on from the stands.