Monday, December 10, 2018

Manchester United 3-2 Newcastle: A Stunning Comeback

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There’s a lot of pressure on Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho from the press these days. No matter how many times reports about his marching orders arriving imminently and the shadow of Zinedine Zidane looming large over his head get shot down, they still keep popping up as his team’s start to the season can only be described as underwhelming.

Not that things are much better on the other side of the North. Rafa Benitez faces a pressure of his own, with lots of speculations going on about the Spaniard and the club owners.

Be that as it may, Mourinho and Benitez are old acquaintances, old enemies from their Chelsea/Liverpool days, as well as both of them largely considered failures at Real Madrid.

Team News

Mourinho is reportedly having some disciplinary problems with his players as well. His apparent conflict with Paul Pogba is certainly doing him and the team no favors, and he is often forced to change things around in search of the best XI to field.

On this occasion he lined his men up in a 4-3-3 formation, with David De Gea in goal and the back four of Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw in front of them. Nemanja Matić was tasked with shielding that line, while Scott McTominay and Pogba were supposed to be creative further up. Romelu Lukaku was upront, flanked by Marcus Rashford (left) and Anthony Martial.

Newcastle were shaped in a compact 4-4-2, with Martin Dubravka in goal, Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles as the centre-back pair flanked by DeAndre Yedlin on the right and Javi Manquillo on the left. Jonjoe Shelvey and Mohamed Diame teamed up in the middle of the park while Matt Ritchie and Kenedy covered the wide midfield positions. Ayoze Perez and Yoshinori Muto formed the partnership in attack.

The First Half – Surprise, Surprise

Both teams entered the contest with attacking intent, but it was Newcastle that struck the first blow after seven minutes. A throw-in from the left side near the halfway line found Ayoze Perez unmarked behind United’s midfield and the forward threaded an excellent pass for the run of Kenedy into the box. Young caught up with him but Kenedy shifted the ball from his right to his left foot and coolly put it into the far bottom corner and out of De Gea’s reach.

It didn’t take the Magpies long to add insult to injury. Less than three minutes later they were two goals up. Another poorly defended throw-in was aimed at Shelvey whose cross found Muto on the penalty spot. The Japanese turned around Young and slammed it in.

It took United a few more minutes to recompose themselves before the contest took up an even look. But the visitors were still more compact at the back and more direct going forward. Shelvey tested De Gea again from range in the 18th minute, but the Spanish international goalkeeper was up to it this time.

Just one minute later, Mourinho shook things up by introducing Juan Mata instead of Bailly. McTominay slotted back into the centre-back role and got lucky straight away as he escaped a booking for a late tackle on Muto. Pogba dropped slightly deeper and Mata went to play as the most advanced midfielder.

United had their first chances straight after that, but first Matić headed into the arms of Dubravka, and then Rashford’s free header missed the target from 5 yards. Matić’s chance was a favorable one, but Rashford simply had to score his. Just after the half-hour mark Muto failed to score with a free header of his own from the same distance as United’s defence fell asleep and De Gea produced a great save.

The home team struggled with defending crosses throughout. Just two minutes after Muto, Lascelles failed to convert from a free header too after Shelvey aimed a good ball into the box from a free-kick.

There was a considerable lack of focus from Young on the left side, and young midfielder McTominay playing as his nearest defensive partner didn’t seem to help. Newcastle players soon started designing their attacks to go that way.

Five minutes from the break referee Anthony Taylor let United off the hook with an inexplicable mistake. Another attack from the visitors went through their right side and they got a free-kick in a wide position, about 20 yards out. Shelvey took it and Young, who was standing in the wall, blocked the cross with a raised elbow. The referee not only failed to give a penalty; he failed to give a corner when the ball went out of bounds.

Towards the end of the half, Pogba tried a few long-range efforts and United had a few corners. After taking one inside the two minutes of stoppage time, they had a penalty appeal of their own but Taylor again missed what had happened as Muto used his arm to bring the ball down before taking it out of the box. Shaw earned a yellow card for stopping a counterattack from developing with a deliberate foul.

The Second Half – Another Surprise

Marouane Fellaini has long been Mourinho’s go-to man, and the Belgian replaced McTominay from the start of the second period. Matić was now playing beside Smalling and Pogba was the deepest one in midfield.

Meanwhile, Newcastle understandably dropped their lines a bit deeper.

Less than two minutes in, United performed one of their trademark attack moves and they weren’t far away from getting a goal back. Pogba launched a pass from the back towards Lukaku on the edge of the box. The striker brought it down for the run of Martial who was through, but Dubravka was quick off the line and took the ball away from his feet.

It’s really hard to explain Matić’s miss that happened two minutes later. A 20-yard shot from Pogba went through a forest of legs before being excellently saved by Dubravka, but the Slovak could only parry it. Matić was the closest and quickest to react and he had an open goal at his mercy at six yards, but his left-footed shot ended up high in the stands.

United were giving their best go at this point. Crosses and shots were coming in thick and fast, and Newcastle were pressed hard at the back but still resisted. They won a brief respite with two successive free-kicks in the home team’s half, and Ritchie got into referee Taylor’s book for taking the second one too quickly. Kenedy had a moment of apparent brilliance when he bamboozled United’s back line with some fine dribbling, but his subsequent shot went over the bar.

As the Mourinho’s team continued their dominance, Newcastle hit on the break with the pace of Yedlin and Pogba stopped him with a cynical foul from the back, getting his name into Taylor’s book for it.

With 66 minutes gone, Mourinho made his last throw of the dice by pulling out Rashford and placing his hopes in Alexis Sanchez.

Three minutes later United finally pulled one back. Diame brought Martial down on the edge of the box in a good position for a left-footed shooter and earned a booking. Sanchez and Mata took up their positions, the Chilean stepped over it and Mata swung it over the wall and down, hitting the near bottom corner. There was nothing Dubravka could do.

Newcastle almost made it three immediately with Ritchie’s heel-flick going through the legs of Shaw, but De Gea was on hand to save the day again.

In the 74th minute Dubravka single-handedly kept his team in the lead with two incredible saves. First Fellaini and then Smalling hit the target from close range. But two minutes later there was nothing he could do. Coming in from the left wing, Martial played a great one-two with Pogba and blasted the ball from around 12 yards into the near bottom corner, leveling the score.

Newcastle again came close straight afterwards with Diame’s header scraping the back of Fellaini, changing direction and fooling De Gea, but Lukaku somehow managed to clear it off the very line.

The game was now in its hottest period with both teams not settling for a point but trying hard to win. The ball was moving quickly from one end to the other and both sets of defenders had their hands full all the time. But United, carried by a new-found dose of confidence and helped by the huge support from the stands, seemed the likelier to score. Meanwhile, whenever the ball went the other way Perez would work tirelessly to hold it up and enable his team to move forward.

With two minutes left on the clock, Benitez sent in Joselu instead of the tired feet of Perez.

And as it seemed it would, so it happened. In the last minute of the 90, United worked up a promising attack and eventually Young whipped in a good cross from the right side. There was a crowd of players in that box, but the ball found the head of Sanchez who placed it into the bottom corner, past Dubravka and into the net. The turnaround was now complete.

The visitors seemed so stunned that they just couldn’t connect properly in order to try and get back to level terms, despite five minutes being added. United took advantage of that, pressing them early into mistakes and making sure their second-half achievement wouldn’t be in vain. They earned a few half-chances which nothing came of, but it didn’t matter. They won the game.

The Afterthought

It might seem harsh on the Magpies to lose the game like this, but all things considered, it could be argued that it was of their own doing. In hindsight, the slightly more defensive approach at the start of the second half needlessly (from their point of view) allowed the hosts to breathe and start playing with more freedom. Also, Diame’s foul on Martial which led to United’s first goal seemed needless too as the French winger had a number of opponents still to face.

Having played eight games, Manchester United sit in eighth place with 13 points to their name, while Newcastle share the bottom with Cardiff City, without a win this season and only two draws on the side of six defeats. It may be early yet, but the Magpies seem to be facing a hard battle to stay in the Premier League.

Match Report

MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 7.5, Smalling 6.5, Bailly N/A (19′ Mata 8), Young 6, Shaw 6, Matić 5.5, McTominay 7 (46′ Fellaini 6.5), Pogba 7.5, Rashford 6 (67′ Sanchez 8), Martial 8, Lukaku 7.5.

NEWCASTLE: Dubravka 8, Lascelles 7.5, Fernandez 6, Yedlin 6.5, Manquillo 6.5, Ritchie 6.5, Shelvey 7.5, Diame 6.5, Kenedy 7.5 (68′ Murphy 6), Perez 8 (88′ Joselu N/A), Muto 7.5 (78′ Atsu 5.5).

GOALS: Kenedy 7′, Muto 10′, Mata 70′, Martial 76′, Sanchez 90.

YELLOW CARDS: Shaw 45′, Ritchie 58′, Pogba 63′, Diame 69.

DATE & VENUE: October 6, 2018; Old Trafford.

REFEREE: Anthony Taylor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on four different football blogs.

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