Manchester United suffered their second defeat in as many games, and lost their unbeaten away record, on a memorable night in Newcastle where the Toon Army moved just four points off fourth place with a 3-0 win. Here are Sam Thompson’s observations…
Newcastle line up 4-4-2: Winger Gabriel Obertan missed out on an opportunity to take on his former club as one of two changes from Newcastle’s loss at Liverpool. Pardew, perhaps boldly, went for a 4-4-2, although Newcastle were the home side and he was quoted this week as saying: “we’re in a good position to try and attack the game. It’s important to retain the ball against United, to make them work but it’s also important we make sure we offer a threat.”. Ryan Taylor, after being troubled last time out at left back, moved to the right of midfield, with Davide Santon moving into defence. Shola Ameobi was brought in upfront alonsidge Demba Ba.
Rooney partnered with Berbatov: Sir Alex Ferguson also chose a 4-4-2. Anders Lindegaard was surprisingly chosen to play in goal and Antonio Valencia filled in at right back. The United midfield provided plenty of experience, consisting of Park Ji Sung, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Nani. The in form Berbatov partnered Wayne Rooney upfront.
Newcastle willing to attack
Just as Alan Pardew insisted, Newcastle were prepared to attack. As soon as the fourth minute, Danny Simpson had overlapped on the right hand side and set up Ba for a chance that he really should have finished in front of goal. Tonight Ba played in the role Haris Vuckic played against Liverpool. He dropped off Shola Ameobi, creating a 4-4-1-1 shape when out of possession, and every time Michael Carrick got on the ball, he was immediately closed down by Ba (shown below). It was obvious that Newcastle felt they had to stop Carrick from building up the away side’s momentum.
United close down Tiote
Unlike against Liverpool in his last match, Cheick Tiote was never given any space in midfield to dictate the play and move the ball into space. If Ryan Giggs or Michael Carrick weren’t pressing the Ivorian, then the role was taken up by Rooney. However, Manchester United were less reluctant to pressure the Newcastle defence early on, who were often allowed to keep the ball at a slow, relaxed tempo.
Newcastle tested the new keeper early on, with notable efforts from Tiote and Cabaye – all 3 of their shots in the first twenty minutes came from outside the box. Surprisingly Newcastle used the full width of the pitch when in possession and as already mentioned, Danny Simpson in particular was a willing runner from deep. But there were times when they left too much space at the back and were warned when Nani had a shot beaten away by Tim Krul.
Demba Ba bags another
Another feature of Newcastle when out of possession was to defend very narrow on the right hand side. This left plenty of space for Patrice Evra to exploit but when he moved forward he did occasionally leave too much space in behind. The left back often stayed tight to Ryan Taylor when his side didn’t have the ball, even when Taylor dropped deep. The space vacated was occasionally filled by Taylor peeling off Evra or Simpson running from right back, but Ameobi showed a reluctance to drift away from Phil Jones to create a different problem for the centre back. After being denied a penalty, Newcastle scored just after half an hour. A long kick from Krul was flicked on by Ameobi with Jones close behind. Ba moved into the space left by Jones and swivelled to hit the ball on the half-volley and into the top corner.
Man Utd Pressure
Manchester United ended the half the better but lacked a final ball. The two United wingers pushed on slightly, particular Nani, but both Valencia and the Portuguese winger’s crosses on the right hand side were dealt with easily by Coloccini at the near post on a number of occasions. During the first half, Newcastle were necessarily direct, but equally weren’t afraid to hit Ameobi or Ba early. Ferguson’s side player shorter passes but got a bit congested in the final third with both Park and Nani coming in off the touchline.
Newcastle double their lead
No sooner had the second half started, Newcastle went two up from a stunning Cabaye free kick. The Frenchman and his central partner Tiote, both had very impressive games – decent on the ball and incredibly hard working without it. Ferguson brought on Welbeck for Berbatov, presumably to pose more of a threat behind the lines but the striker struggled with the pace of the match. Perhaps the game changing moment was Danny Simpson saving a Wayne Rooney effort on the line, which came about from Valencia getting behind the Newcastle defence for the first time. As the away side piled on the pressure, mainly due to Newcastle starting to press less and siting deeper, they failed to create any clear cut opportunities.
Newcastle hold on
One problem from Ferguson’s point of view was how narrow Evra played when his side had possession in the Newcastle half. On a number of occasions he passed over to the right hand side of the centre circle at a time when his side needed as much width as possible to try and stretch Newcastle. Plus Rooney was playing on the left wing and therefore was prone to drifting centrally. James Perch came on and played as an anchor man, signalling Pardew’s attempt to sit deep and try and hold on to a win, whilst Ferguson threw on yet more attacking players who failed to get up to the pace of the game.
United concede from a second long ball
The game finished 3-0 as a result of another long ball from Krul and miscommunication between Phil Jones and Anders Lindegaard. In the end Newcastle looked comfortable, despite sitting deep and inviting pressure. Ameobi performed what was expected of him well by keeping the ball and being a physical presence – Jones only won 1 header all night. The midfield worked incredibly hard to limit space between themselves and the defence and Demba Ba worked selflessly to stop Carrick dictating the game. Finally, their defence remained solid with Coloccini having an outstanding game. Ferguson’s side clearly lacked penetration, particularly in the final third. Surely a creative player will be purchased this January?