With wins all around us today, a win was integral. You would not have been able to tell if you watched the beginning embers of the game as United pass the ball out of possession and defended as if they had multiple cups of sherry. The Rashford goal, a nutmeg and shimmy before putting down to Darlow’s right, was antithetical to anything that came before it. As ever, the United conceded their customary goal as Saint Maximin struck high into the United net. A firm James hit and Bruno penalty in the second half capped off a more comfortable game than many would have expected during half time. All in all, job done. Onto the next as the games come thick and fast.
The mid-week saw a rare clean sheet for United this season. Usually, they have come in games in which the team have not looked all too threatening or the team they have been up against are not the most potent scorers. What made mid week significant was the fact that it was against a Real Sociedad side with real attacking talent, along with the fact that Henderson and Bailly were stationed behind and beside captain Maguire, respectively. The latter started poorly but grew into the game but the most significant moment came on a counter where the pace of Bailly was able to divert Isak into the path of Maguire, who was able to poke it away. With the lack of fans in the stadium, the shouts of players can be heard. Even if fans were in there, Henderson’s shouts to the backline would have been audible.
Come today, although many didn’t expect it to actually happen, the inclusion of De Gea and Lindelof was met with the groans that their performances have deserved. Maguire himself cannot be excluded from the troublesome trident and today, the way they all started, no United fan expected to have a clean sheet today. Miguel Almiron is not the best but what he lacks in quality, he makes up in sheer dynamism and work rate. It is is still quite fascinating how such simple things manage to bother the Man Utd defence so regularly. Almiron and Allan Saint Maximin were able to constantly worry the defence. But even without it, they were making errors quite remarkably. Maguire and De Gea both passed to Newcastle players within their own defensive third. Lindelof decided to add his own to the party when he got the runaround by Almiron before impeding him, yet not judged to do so by the referee.
For the goal, De Gea’s usual scared act when it comes to coming off his line was paid the ultimate price as United once again were unable to contain a corner. The ball was played short and the defensive shape had to quick change from zonal to man marking, which caused confusion between Matic and Martial at the back post. Despite that, the ball comes to Maguire who heads the ball into a shocking area back into the play, rather than putting it out of touch. In an ideal world, you have a good keeper coming off their line to claim a high ball but the Spaniard has never been one to do that and no longer has the shot stopping to make fans look past it. The strike from Saint Maximin himself could have also been saved but it has been a long time we have expected great expectations from our still No.1. Up until the 55th minute, they were tested and looked shaky. Once Newcastle’s offensive powers waned, they had little to do and so were not made to look bad. But it just goes to show how untrustworthy this defence is and when the time comes for them to help out the attack, I doubt we will ever see that happen.
I’ll have you know that Daniel James has outdone his goal-scoring efforts from last season already. Considering that 75% of last season’s goals were scored within the first 4 games of the season, you will see why by the end of it, the Welshman was hardly featuring in the team. As a starter or a substitute. Too often, when United would come up against deep stubborn blocks, the effects of the James pace were subdued to such an point that he would hardly be involved as the team would heavily predicate their play down the left hand side as Rashford and Martial would both navigate their way too. James himself would love to play on that side but such is the heavy leaning to one side of wingers in the squad, he has had to ply many a game on the right to make up the numbers. The first half saw much of what we saw last season. Hardly ever did the team fashion chances for James to run down the line or go 1v1 vs Lewis, who was unlikely to be helped out by Saint-Maximin. This changed in the second as United began to diversify their attacks more, rather than exclusively playing down the left lane.
In the end, his goal came from James hanging out on the right hand side and getting a lucky break off Fernandes from a good looking pass from Matic, as he performed a good shimmy to take it away from his marker. James proceeded to smash it into the net. As Jim Beglin said in commentary, it was the first of the five he scored this season that really mattered. The four before were at the end of the routs. This one was the deciding goal before a Bruno pen (who would have thought) would make the game safe.
As Rashford ascends, putting the team on his back, performance wise and statistically, Martial shrinks ever more into his shell. A double act before, Rashford looks to go out on his own as the player worthy of a starting place in the team Outside of a shrugging off, dribble and shot in the second half, the Frenchman was quite literally a ghost in the game before he taken off for Mason Greenwood. Whilst Cavani is injured and with Greenwood now getting played in his favoured position from the start more often, there is nothing more to use as an incentive for Martial to kick into gear. The past month and half has seen his starting berth be taken away from him by 34 year old Uruguayan who has been injured for the past two seasons and hadn’t played football between the months of March and October. An annus horribilis yes but time waits for no man at Old Trafford and he may find himself fighting the battle he thought he would only fight under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho
The difference in performance between the two halves were enough, if not stark. Matic beginning to play like he knew his left from his right played a huge part in that. A first half where no looked good apart from Rashford, my man of the match, the Serbian looked lazy off the ball and lax on it. Stepping it up, with passes through the lines and more intent in his carrying, was huge help for the win in the end.