The Return of the Magnificent Seven(s) : Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 1
At the end of the game at Old Trafford on Saturday it was no surprise that a day which started off being all about the return to Manchester United of the second best footballer of his generation, ended up being all about him after all.
Whether that was a testament to his quality, or a lack of it in the opposition, will be immaterial to all those joining the Ronaldo love-in afterwards, but I am not one of those people. It is the other story which is more important, for us in black and white a familiar one.
We all knew that we were the ideal team to play against on such an occasion, an accommodating one, there is no party-pooper mode at NUFC. The only parties we poop are our own.
Which is probably the most galling conclusion to draw after Saturday’s game. Not that we lost, we always lose at Old Trafford. Not that we got a bit of a belting in the end, that usually happens too. It is more that as a club we are in a position whereby it is expected and accepted.
We have never been able to compete with Man Utd financially but money isn’t what football is about. If it is about momentum then the two clubs couldn’t be further apart right now.
One club on the up, full of itself, celebrating the Return of the King, the other one Gollum, a skulking shadow of itself, hollow and empty as Alan Shearer said. One club at Old Trafford on Saturday improved its team in the close season by buying one of the world’s best central defenders, one of the world’s best young talents and then one of its most iconic players. The other team supposedly had to change its entire financial strategy to buy one player. We may not have ever been able to compete financially with Man Utd, now we can’t even compete with Crystal Palace.
Still, as we keep being told, this is where we are as a club. On the basis that every team needs to bring in at least two or three new players every season to continue to grow, someone somewhere just doesn’t know what they are doing. At least one.
‘Newcastle United Football Club according to Alan Shearer (possibly)’
And so the celebrity party started, every hanger-on was there. Some like Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs deserved their seat, though Ryan isn’t allowed to sit with other human beings nowadays, it’s his own fault. Others like Fat Sam presumably just there for the buffet. Even Gary Oldman was there, that banning order from when he was in The Firm must have expired.
Unfortunately for NUFC, one of the hangers-on was picking our team. After the game, Steve Bruce spoke of preparation and training, definitely not in Portugal. His preparation for this game was to slip the returning Isaac Hayden into central defence, bring in Manquillo as a more defensive wing back, Almiron playing ahead of him on the right, JL7 on the left and Maxi as a marauding lone striker.
Before the game I was sceptical that any of it would work but to be fair to the Stevolution, occasionally some of it did. Certainly, United always carried a threat, even if we never got enough players into Manyoo’s box to take full advantage of the penetrative running of Willock, Almiron, Maxi and yes, at least twice, JL7. Playing a striker would have helped, but whether the team would have played in the same way with a central striker, is something only our tactical genius can answer.
It took about ten minutes for Ronaldo to get into the game, shooting into the side-netting from the left. By then Fernandes had already started diving and Manyoo were already getting the sort of free kicks which has made Old Trafford so “intimidating” (commentator speak for unfair). Those in red were sharp and busy, dangerous corners came and went, lots of good play but few chances. Varane should have done better with a header from one such corner and Fernandes hit one just over the bar from the halfway line. He’s no Rob Lee. This prompted a heated conversation between keeper Woodman, Captain Lascelles and the referee, Andy Taylor eventually deciding not to go over to Fernandes to tell Bruno he is no Rob Lee.
NUFC broke regularly, Maxi and Willock not making the most of decent runs, Ritchie and Maxi having long rangers easily dealt with. JL7 had a chance to shoot from just outside the box and unfortunately that’s what he did. Willock thrashed over our best chance when he should have squared it. To Joelinton. Probably best just to put it out then. When we got it wide, there was no point in crossing the ball because no one was in the middle, a contrast to Man U who were flooding our box.
NUFC went into their shells. As the half drew to a close, if the Toon had gone any deeper we would have had to watch the game on P.rnhub. Then came one of two decisive moments in the game, both moments for Old Trafford to savour, both moments for our defence to consider alone in the darkness of their thoughts. A routine Greenwood shot was heading straight into Freddie Woodman’s arms when Clark stuck out a stupid leg and got the sort of deflection which Virat Kohli would have sent upstairs to the third umpire. It was enough to throw our young custodian, who spilled it embarrassingly into the middle of the goal where Ronaldo had followed it in, alone and with the goal gaping, not one of our defenders did the same.
If just before half time is a horrible time to concede a goal, it didn’t really affect the start of the second half. Newcastle were finding it harder to clear their lines, Manyoo players pressurising more, our players unable to cope with it. That is until Miggy did a turn straight out of Ronaldo’s repertoire, ran forward with purpose, fed Maxi who looked to have lost control. Then came the marauding figure of Manquillo overlapping, ASM found him and Manquillo lashed the ball home in the sort of manner which suggests that he will be playing up front next week. Cue bedlam. MOTD didn’t give the goal the credit it deserved, it was a beauty, but Ronaldo hadn’t scored it so let’s move on.
For three minutes the game was ours. Miggy again got into the box but was unable to find ASM who was running towards the middle of the goal, or Joelinton who wasn’t. A good chance went begging.
That wasn’t the Toon’s last chance for salvation but a minute later Manchester United went ahead. Another collective defensive calamity. Shaw running for fifty yards under no pressure, Isaac Hayden failing to track Ronaldo until it was too late to stop him getting a shot off. A shot that should have been saved by Woodman but went through his legs. I suppose that is the difference between players, why some make it for top teams or become great and some just pick up a great wage playing top level sport. What does it come down to? Commitment, desire, focus, ability, luck? All five?
Three minutes later, that became more apparent as United’s last good chance for reward came and went. JL7 ran from the left onto a Matt Ritchie pass, barged past a couple of Manyoo defenders and powerfully shot straight at De Gea with the goal gaping. Those small differences. Joelinton was a top player in getting into that shooting position, after that, well we know what he is most of the time. He played quite well on Saturday by his own standards, which admittedly are very, very low.
For Newcastle, the game ended at that point. Murphy came on for Manquillo, Bruno Fernandes scored an excellent solo goal while in acres of space in the middle twenty five yards out. It would have been a better goal if he had been under pressure but NUFC as a team had gone by now. Longstaff had chased a dribbling Mason Greenwood for about fifteen seconds because no one else would and then could only stand and watch as everyone else left Fernandes alone on the edge of our penalty area when he should have been marking him. That’s what you get for trying Sean, the blame.
Lewis came on for Clark, presumably so we could go to a different formation but no, 5-4-1 continued, with a midfielder and a left back as part of the three-man defence. Baffling. Hendrick replaced Willock who looked gutted when he came off, gutted to have lost, been subbed for Hendrick, or even to have signed at all. Jesse Lingard scored an unnecessary fourth. The best football of the match they said on MOTD. They obviously weren’t watching our goal.
‘A pest supposedly?’
Of Bruce’s two favourite teams, he will be happy that at least one of them is in a good place. Man United have loads of good players and Varane will improve their defence immensely. Ronaldo will not have many easier days than today, a banner flying over the ground calling him out over allegations of sexual predation was his most uncomfortable moment of the game. If they want to win the title, as a team they will need to play better than this against their title rivals and individuals like Pogba will just have to play better than they did on Saturday full stop.
For my favourite United, perhaps they did as much as they could on the day. This battering wasn’t a case of a roll over mentality, it was more a case of our players not being up to the task for enough of the game to get something out of it.
The goalkeeper will take most of the flak and his mistakes were crucial but the defence in front of him, particularly Hayden, were equally culpable, if being asked to return from injury, play in a position you have rarely played in against one of the best players in the world isn’t too much to ask.
Our play was often rushed and thoughtless and when the forward players had the skill to get into good positions, they rarely had the intelligence or support to make them count. Sean Longstaff was the exception to the panic in midfield, calm, composed and talented, except when he forgot to take the knee and kicked the match off while everyone else was kneeling on the ground. Perhaps that was our main plan, get them on their knees. Literally. Longstaff made a few mistakes but never hid, ran his guts out and was never overawed by his famous counterparts.
For the Head Coach, most of the attacking players played well and most of the defenders didn’t. Undoubtedly, when Bruce came to the club we had six good centre halves and very few good attackers so it made sense to play a more defensive system. Now that situation has reversed. We do not now have three good centre backs, Lejeune has left, Dummett, vital to the system constantly injured, whilst time has taken its toll on the others. Not that I am suggesting they are too old, nothing of the sort. Time has taken its toll as in they have now forgotten everything that Rafa taught them. Steve Bruce may have “other qualities” but they are not helping our defenders to defend.
Bruce bangs on about stop making those defensive mistakes but any fool can see that those defenders individually and collectively are going backwards and have been for most of Bruce’s time in charge. We have four good attacking players now. Playing five at the back has come and gone. NUFC can no longer defend. It is time to play to our strength and attack. If that means making ourselves more open then so be it. It’s not like we can concede more goals, we are pretty much at our limit now.
Bruce himself admitted as much after the game:
“We had some really good opportunities. I can’t remember coming here with so many opportunities. The difficulty is giving poor goals away.”
I wouldn’t call that a difficulty in the context of a game of football, it is a little more integral than that. But what can he do? Having admitted last week that he coaches the defence himself, he can’t seriously accuse himself of underachieving can he, not after spending the last two years telling us all how great he is.
As for Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t mention NUFC in his post-match chat. He didn’t have to, he should just send Newcastle United a bouquet of flowers and a card to thank us for coming to the party and helping to make it such a special day for everyone.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 1 – Saturday 11 September 3pm
Ronaldo 45+2, 62, Fernandes 80, Lingard 90+1
(In brackets the first half stats)
Possession was Man Utd 65% (70%) Newcastle 35% (30%)
Total shots were Man Utd 21 (15) Newcastle 12 (6)
Shots on target were Man Utd 7 (3) Newcastle 3 (0)
Corners were Man Utd 7 (4) Newcastle 3 (1)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Woodman, Manquillo (Murphy 77), Hayden, Lascelles, Clark (Lewis 84), Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Willock (Hendrick 85), Saint-Maximin, Joelinton
Darlow, Schar, Krafth, Fernandez, White, Gayle
Newcastle United fans have been back 4 matches and this is what Steve Bruce is reduced to already – Read HERE
Steve Bruce reveals 3 new injury worries after Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 1 – Read HERE
Alan Shearer rave review for Ronaldo as Ian Wright identifies Newcastle’s biggest problem – Read HERE
Steve Bruce refuses to answer holiday question Newcastle United fans are asking after latest hammering – Read HERE
Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 1 – Ronaldo takes reds top as Bruce has NUFC in relegation zone – Read HERE
Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 1 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s hammering – Read HERE
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]