It ended 3-0 again but this time, it was a victory for the Red Devils. The team looked very lively and efficient for the duration of the game and it was more refreshing to walk away from an away game without conceding. However, it is important to highlight some important things from the encounter.
1. ALTERED TEAM SHAPE
For the first time in the league, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa started alongside each other but how would they shape up? The gaffer put forward a diamond-like formation that accommodated the star forwards and the workers like Cleverley. The shape allowed Rooney to play behind Welbeck and Van Persie and freely move all over the place and that was very positive for the team. Most notably, the No.10 dropped into midfield to help Carrick create a 2v2 and sometimes a 3v2 if you add Cleverley versus Cabaye and Tiote. The absence of such pressing in last season’s fixture resulted in the 3-0 defeat. However, more importantly, the dominance in midfield gave the Red Devils a stranglehold of possession of the ball. As the match progressed and Newcastle began to feel more comfortable, the gaffer responded to this trend by throwing on Valencia and switching to a 4-5-1 that helped the team’s right side more effectively since Ben Arfa and Ferguson began to attack that side more than Evra’s end because of Cleverley’s presence in front of the Frenchman. The team shape responded to all the patterns of the tie and it was crucial in the win.
2. HIGH WORK RATE THROUGHOUT
A lot of Manchester United fans have complained about the lack of positive output from some of the players. Wingers have not tracked back enough while midfielders have not shown enough energy in pressing and trying to stop opponents from causing problems. On Sunday, the team showed a lot more commitment in a very important tie. Van Persie followed Rooney’s lead and dropped deeper to fight for the cause and at times, he seemed too fired up. His yellow card and little clash with Cabaye proved just how much he was willing to do for the team. Kagawa and Cleverley, who flanked the diamond, held their positions close to the full backs very well. This was important in closing the possible routes left for Newcastle because the Red Devils had managed the midfield well and so, Ben Arfa and Ferguson had to go through the sides. Rafael and Evra also acquitted themselves fairly well when they had to defend against wingers. The central defenders were also very brave in the game as they cleared wave after wave of Newcastle crosses. Evans even went one better to head home the first goal of the tie and his first of the season.
However, one area of slight worry was De Gea’s weakness in the aerial situations. He flapped at crosses repeatedly and one of those errors allowed Cisse the headed attempt that replays could not tell whether it crossed the line or not. De Gea’s confidence may be rising but he must still rule his area when dealing with crosses. He must show strength and importantly, decisiveness so that he does not get marooned among defenders and attackers and leave the door open to very preventable goals.
It was a very determined performance from the players all round but it was also a good tactical exercise from the gaffer. He saw the need to respond to the team’s recent failings in midfield and defence and he shaped the team to combat the factors that led to last season’s reversal at the same venue. The energy levels were high and the team struck early leaving Newcastle with a lot of work to do. There will be more challenging games as the season rolls on and we must continue to find ways of hurdling the obstacles that lay ahead but at least, we got revenge at St. James’ Park.