If the game against Spurs was lost at selection this was won there. It was a triumph, really. In the space of a week the wrongs had been righted and lessons learned.
What we saw at St. James’ Park was a ruthless, hard working, high-octane outfit that couldn’t be contained when the game was there to be won. Better than that, they looked like they wouldn’t be contained. Thanks to an emphatic early spell of attack and a resolute defence three points were in the bag after quarter of an hour. It was the sort of relentless performance that earns a grudging respect, I could almost hear the sighs of ‘I hate them, but they are good’ from lounge rooms around the world.
We went for the jugular, loading up on attacking talent and throwing caution to the wind. I think that’s what was so pleasing: it wasn’t just the performance, but rather the mentality. It was certainly important to win, imperative even, but given the efforts of recent weeks we needed to put on a good show. And didn’t the boys just.
It was quite the relief to get to the international break with a strong performance and good win in what loomed as a danger game. Lose, an unthinkable situation, and we’d have been be in all sorts.
David De Gea – 4/10
It’s been said that United fans can be a little defensive of David, I should know I’m one of those. He’s a keeper of incredible merit and talent, but he needs to work on a few things, that’s plain to see. He’s still young and raw and blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard it all before. He’ll get better, no doubt about it, he just needs the confidence, faith and time to rediscover those glimpses we saw towards the end of last season.
His command of the area is the biggest thing, it’s really the only thing as his stopping, anticipation and distribution is first class. It’s somewhat encouraging that he’s been told and they’re proactively working on his deficiencies, as his willingness to come off his line might’ve been ill advised at times, but at least he was doing it. Its something he hasn’t been prepared to do for most of this season. He’s been referred to as a flapper, which is fair enough on yesterday’s performance, but the physical attention is something he’s going to have to deal with, as the perception he’s susceptible to that tactic has become reality.
On eighteen minutes he showed calm to watch a ball wide from Gutierrez, but his troubles started on the half hour. He was unable to connect with a fist as he came to meet a cross, then he came unconvincingly for another ball in traffic. Upon first glance it looked ordinary, on second he was fouled. After the half time break he thought himself a bowling ball, clattering into a group of players in an attempt to skittle them. This is about judgment more than anything: he didn’t need to come for it as our defenders had it covered. The funny thing is he then recovered to make an incredible goal line ‘save’. Best and worst in 10 seconds.
Something that has gone unnoticed is his bravery and conviction in the face of what was mounting criticism. He’d have known what the press would be saying, how his performance will have been received, but on 78 minutes he charged off his line to punch clear, getting collected in the process. Way to go, Dave. Keep plugging away.
This could be one of the more astonishing clean sheets in the history of the Premier League. Quite how the calamities didn’t amount to even one goal is a mystery to me.
Rafael – 8/10 (one vote)
Another great game to start the season by Rafael. Whilst I was early to identify his good form, perhaps I didn’t give it enough credit. He has been top notch in pretty much all facets of the game. Rarely beaten at the back, a persistent threat when advanced and looking more likely to add goals to his locker than cards, Rafael has been nothing short of superb.
He was involved from the get go and throughout, closing down and neutralizing Tiote (Chiek was likely aware he’d be wasting his time trying to rough up Raf) before latching onto an RVP through ball and rifling a drilled shot just wide. Both instances were examples of his confidence being sky high. Additionally, his efforts to track back, despite having to make up a lot of ground each time, was a commendable aspect of his game.
His refusal to concede challenges and possession was another highlight. On a few occasions he would commit, get beaten, but track back and win the ball. He executed a series of wonderful tackles after being beaten on the dribble, one in particular on Ben Arfa after being turned, choosing the time to dive in and win the ball superbly on the edge of the box. His intention was to always get the ball, get goal side, push him wide or make him retreat.
He curbed the dangerous Ben Arfa and battled ever so hard to win his position. He was released forward often and when Valencia came on they immediately struck up their rapport.
Jonny Evans – 7/10
Like one of those fish that leap perfectly into the waiting mouth of a bear, Evans powered as emphatic a header as you’re likely to see all season, meeting it at just the right point to give Harper zero chance. I mention it later, but to score two from corners is sensational as we’ve been reasonably toothless from set pieces this season.
A defence can only be as good as its midfield allows it to be. Against Newcastle they were finally, belatedly, given the support that was so absent from the game a week ago. It was obviously a focus during preparation and didn’t it make such a difference; all the difference in fact. Evans looked assured and assertive in marking one of the two big forwards, not giving them an inch when in dangerous positions and closing if they did get off the chain.
Took one for the cause when he seemed to roll over on his ankle as he attempted to close down a Demba Ba shot in the first half, fortunately he was able to shake it off and resume. When it became apparent De Gea needed support Evans was alive to the moment, making sure any danger was diffused or disabled quickly.
It wasn’t just the goal that showed he’s adept at both ends, but his back heel for Welbeck will be spoken about on the training track at some length I imagine. And his surging run in the dying moments in which he carried the ball some 60 meters… the goal gave him delusions of grandeur.
Rio Ferdinand 7/10
Rio was very, very steady. But for a pretty unnecessary challenge on Cisse that earned him a yellow card (maybe he recalled the penalty he conceded last season and thought if he’s going to concede a foul against Newcastle he’ll at least make it worthwhile) he was confident and secure at the back.
He fought well for front position when crosses came in and cleared them well via head and boot. I’ve said it before, whilst his pace has diminished his ability to read the play has not. He didn’t afford any Newcastle player he was charged with guarding any space whatsoever and was, as Evans, a good performer.
Patrice Evra – 7/10
Isn’t it typical that after a good performance the pats on the back for Patrice come with the caveats ‘its about time’ or ‘he was better than usual’. Took his goal well and celebrated like a left back would, was compact and orderly in carrying out his duties. I loved his effort to hem Cisse in, pressurizing the big man into a rather embarrassing dive to win a free kick. Way to win one for the little guy, Pat.
They had tried to oppose Ben Arfa to his countryman, hoping to get some joy from the pacey winger running at Evra. Fortunately Evra was up to it when called upon and we were able to support him, something we’ve not really been able to do a lot of this season. It’s easy for people to not realize or forget how exposed Evra has been for spells this term. To win a flank it takes more than one man and it’s unrealistic to think anything less will get the job done.
On 51 minutes, with Newcastle surging and looking for a way back into the contest, it was fantastic to see Evra epitomize the desperation required to keep the lead at 2. He flung himself at the ball in heavy traffic to win it and a free kick, relieving the pressure and allowing us to reset and compose ourselves. It was one of my favorite moments of the match.
Shinji Kagawa – 6/10
Shifted from his favored central role to the wing following a break in mid-week the little Japanese play-maker was his usual busy self. The end product wasn’t as good as it has been, with his touch just fractionally off at times, but was still a threat and involved. Made a decent enough fist of his wide berth, but unsurprisingly came alive when he would drift inside. Had a moment of class when he was corralled by two on the touchline and delivered a beautiful back heel into the path of the advancing Rafael.
He was subbed off on 54 minutes following a decent shift, with a more recognized winger coming on for the final 40-odd minutes. Kagawa looked just half a yard off the pace, unable to really do damage when advanced, but he still battled on and was going to be a danger if he wasn’t paid the respect he deserves.
I had my heart in my mouth when a pretty crude tackle by Jonas took him down, but fortunately he leaped to his feet and got on with it. He was a little unlucky to get a yellow for his first tackle… of the season, especially in light of Tiote’s stamp going unpunished.
Michael Carrick – 7/10
No frills, diligent and disciplined. He played his role and did his job flawlessly, deferring the more advanced work to Rooney and Cleverley and watching from a distance in midfield to make sure everything was well in hand. He was almost like a chaperone for two less experienced players in that sense. As the game was a war waging frenetically around him, end to end with tackles flying in, he was calm, staid and steady on the ball and well positioned when we were on defence.
As Cleverley, Rooney, Tiote, Ben Arfa et al were operating at a million miles an hour, butting heads like young bucks trying to prove a point, Carrick just did what he had to to ensure we were well positioned on the scoreboard and field.
Played an important, if concealed part in a crucial win.
Tom Cleverley – 8.5/10
I think it was deliberate. It initially looked like a horribly mishit cross to RVP… but it was too heavy, surely, to be a cross. Especially considering it would have missed its target by about 10-15 meters. What a wonderful strike. To be honest I think he’s just thrown his boot at it, hit it ever so sweetly, seen it curve and the stars have aligned. Either way he deserved it, his first Premier League goal for Manchester United.
Had to be given the opportunity at some point. And hasn’t he taken it ever so well. We have a lot of grafters in the side now, not that that’s a criticism. I mean that in the best possible way. He keeps going all day, tackling, chasing, advancing and tracking back. He is near tireless in his pursuit of the result. His skills seem somewhat underrated also, with good feet, vision and passing ability to compliment what a few have said is simply a good work rate.
I was particularly impressed with how he ran the midfield, holding his shape when we were without the ball, thus consigned them to very wide positions when attempting to attack. A criticism of our games against Cluj and Spurs were that we allowed them a lot of ball centrally, putting pressure on a retreating defence. Cleverley was integral in closing the space and options for them to operate in that channel. His head to head battle with Tiote was particularly satisfying, as he beat the Newcastle destroyer hands down both on attack and in defence.
It was a shame his ball for Welbeck, which Danny controlled by shrugging a would be tackler before returning the pass into his path, ended as it did. Tom’s body shape was all wrong as he met it, blasting it high into the stands.
On 86 minutes Bigrimana confirmed my suspicion they’re a pack of arseholes, when he tackled him late.
Wayne Rooney – 9/10 (Man of the Match)
After the arrival of Robin van Persie and with the good early season form of both the Dutchman and Shinji Kagawa coincided with Rooney’s absence through injury there were murmurs of unrest, with speculation growing as to how best to deploy Wayne Rooney in the number 10 of United. We didn’t seem to be playing a system that would utilize him, and if you believe the press we weren’t going to. Given he is one of the most talked about, critiqued and criticized players in the game it was unsurprising conversations turned to this. Over the past four games we’ve seen how to let him loose. He’s played up top, in the middle, out wide, dropped deep into midfield to shield and aid defence… simply put we just need him to play wherever he can.
His performance at St. James’ Park has drawn near universal acclaim, with this Rooney the one people know and love. Pardew didn’t mince words when he praised his impact, echoing the sentiments of all who watched the game. He dictated in midfield, he created in advanced positions; he spread the ball far and wide and was nothing short of a menace. He dropped back to assist in defence, taking up intelligent positions in our box to clear or cutting out the play in transition. Our attitude and approach was typified early on in the first half when Wayne ran back like a man possessed to execute a crucial and rather meaty sliding tackle to dispossess Ben Arfa. There was nothing in, as he took the ball, but it was a sign of intent.
Whenever he was on the ball something was bound to happen. His touch was back, his movement clever and distribution the right option in almost every instance. His set piece delivery, also, is something worth mentioning. He mightn’t always put them in the back of the net, but at least most of his free kicks are on target, as we saw when he drew a sprawling save from Harper, only to deliver the subsequent corner onto Patrice Evra’s head. He and Cleverley dominated Newcastle’s men in the middle, something we had failed so conclusively to do on our last visit. The match was decided by how hard they ran, how well they competed when we weren’t in possession or battling for it and, crucially, how brilliantly they would hold the ball.
Given just how hard he’d worked, how much ground he’d covered and how tired he must’ve been it made perfect sense to see him make way for Scholes when the match was sealed late on. For all the talk that he can’t be another Scholes (for what its worth it would come as no surprise should we never see another Scholes), he did a better than good impression of the midfield maestro, no? The best thing for United is to let Rooney play, give him the ball and the keys to what we want to do. When he’s in this mood he’s just unstoppable.
Robin van Persie – 7/10
A very good game by Robin. Our leading goal scorer, but his game isn’t really about that, is it? He’s a creator, a worrier and a real willing worker. Pushing up to receive, dropping off to find space, he really has it all. His touch, control and distribution are first class and, without pre-empting correction, he seems to be much more involved in and integral to the flow of the game than he was at Arsenal. It’s all about role, I suppose.
Had and created some opportunities, with a stroked ball on the outside of his left foot that went across his body collected by Harper at the near post, and a beautifully conceived pass to Rafael when he was being closed by two lifted invitingly into the Brazilian’s path as he surged into the box. Like Rooney his set piece delivery was excellent. The corner for Evans was on a dime and another just before the half found Carrick at the near post. Its something we’ve been lacking for a while: that real tangible threat from the set piece. It all starts with delivery.
Fortunately his elbow on Cabaye has been cleared, as we can ill afford to lose important players that are in good form. It goes back to that mentality of his, one of combat and fire that I quite like. He’s got a bit of a mean streak, competitiveness that when channeled in the right way makes a good player great. It did threaten to boil over when he took a yellow for a rash challenge on the half hour. Of course channeling your elbow into someone’s face isn’t what I had in mind, I get the impression he really doesn’t like Newcastle.
Danny Welbeck – 6/10
Leading the line in light of our current method of selection that sees Rooney in midfield. The opportunity was a good one for Danny to make an impact and keep himself as near to the top of the pecking order as possible.
What we got was a typically Welbeck-esque game. We saw lots of running, closing and good movement on and off the ball, complimented by some shoddy finishing when the chances fell his way. I understand what pressure can do, and in terms of continuity he’s been all over the place, but what we don’t get enough of at this stage is goals. He really should have been on the score sheet or, at the very least, with an assist to his name as he stepped onto the coach back to Manchester. Whether it be down to awareness, execution or just bad luck he got neither.
On four minutes he snatched at a chance created by a brilliant back heel by Evans, scuffing what could have been blasted into the relieved path of Harper. On eleven minutes he did brilliantly to dispossess the Newcastle stopper, round him and had RVP on square for a tap in, sadly he opted to shoot and did so wide. The half didn’t get any better when his heavy touch from Rooney’s well weighted through ball saw him far too wide to deliver a goal bound shot. Had he not shaped to shoot with the right he would have been able to drill it first time or go on the left.
The best of Welbeck was on show when with the clock reading in excess of 90 minutes he was still closing down across the front line, making life for their back four as uncomfortable as ever.
Antonio Valencia – 5/10
Was given our right hand side and a reunion with Rafael after 57 minutes, replacing the hard working Kagawa. He showed good awareness after just a few minutes on the pitch when he responded first to a botched clearance from Harper, he hesitated momentarily, however, which Rooney and RVP had made runs into the box. Shortly after he linked well with Rafael after receiving the ball he set off down the right, Rafael sprinted up the inside to either get in behind or drag their left back out of position. Sadly nothing was to come of it, with the ball cut out, but that they were on such an attacking wavelength was great to see.
Had a good moment when he stepped inside two opponents on the edge of their box and was felled, it really should have been a foul but was inexplicably waved as play on. Good to see him back from his short injury lay off, allaying fears it was something serious.
Paul Scholes – 2.5/5
Got himself booked for a tackle that was nowhere near as fiery as the outburst that greeted the card. He was gesticulating that an opponent had influenced Webb’s decision, and it certainly did seem to be a card for reputation more than the infringement itself. Executed a magnificent tackle shortly after on the edge of our box, which was all that we know of Paul: full blooded, a bit from behind… but he took the ball. Didn’t have much to do but see out time in truth. But did that pretty well.
Ryan Giggs – n/a
On 84 minutes there was a shot of Giggs warming up on the bench. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his head. Far from writing him off, I want the guy to recapture the sort of form his years belie. He was wearing the whitest boots I’d ever seen, they didn’t have a speck of dirt on them and looked like they came from Tony Curtis’ wardrobe from The Great Race. He must’ve worn them against Spurs (oooh, stop). When he came on a few minutes later he ran around but the sting was well and truly out of the game. Not expected to do much and time didn’t allow it.
3 – Wayne Rooney
2 – Tom Cleverley
1 – Rafael
9 – Scholes, Rooney
7 – Kagawa
6 – Cleverley
5 – Valencia, Van Persie
3 – Nani, Ferdinand, Anderson, Rafael