Both sides came into the game on the back of disappointing losses in mid-week and Saturday’s early kick off gave them a chance for quick retribution. For the home side, the performance against Everton wasn’t the worst of the season but for a variety of reasons (tactical analysis here) they came up short. For Newcastle, their impressive renaissance and charge up the table was halted midweek by Swansea and in normal circumstances, a trip to Old Trafford on the back of a 3-0 loss should be a daunting prospect. However, Old Trafford hasn’t been the stronghold that Manchester United fans have been used to and Newcastle proved just that.
Manchester United 0-1 Newcastle United
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael (Valencia 76′); Evans; Vidic; Evra; Jones; Cleverley (Anderson 69′); Januzaj; Nani (Zaha 68′); Van Persie; Hernandez
Newcastle United: Krul; Debuchy (Yanga-Mbiwa 83′); Williamson; Coloccini; Santon; Tiote; Anita; Sissoko; Cabaye (Ameobi 78′); Gouffran (Ben Arfa 61′); Remy
Newcastle’s organized set up
The frustration at Old Trafford was palpable at the end of the game and much of that is down to Newcastle’s brilliantly organized set up. First off the personnel and shape that Pardew deployed was spot on. Anita and Tiote were instructed to protect the back 4 with Cabaye in an advanced position to provide support to lone striker Remy. On the left, Gouffran continued in the side ahead of the more flamboyant Ben Arfa. With the aforementioned duo of Anita and Tiote ever present to provide defensive cover, the full backs, especially Debuchy on the right, were given the license to move forward and join in with the attack. The Newcastle players were always quick to get goal-side of the ball which made them tough to break down, especially for what was a lackluster home side.
Manchester United’s lack of attacking creativity through the centre
Credit must go to Newcastle but the home side cannot hide behind that. Yes Newcastle did well and maintained their tactical discipline throughout the game. Yes their tactics were spot on but this is not something that the Champions haven’t seen and dealt with in the past. Time and again, teams have set up shop at Old Trafford and more often than not Manchester United do eke out a result. The start was promising with both Jones and Cleverley bypassing the Newcastle midfield early in the game but as the game wore on and Newcastle settled both on and off the ball, it was all too laboured from United. Neither Jones or Cleverley managed to provide any impetus to the attack and the tempo was flat throughout the game. Van Persie played in a deeper role and tried to influence play but the Dutchman didn’t look like his usual self with his fitness quite obviously not 100% yet. Moyes will rue the fact that he couldn’t call upon the likes of the ill Kagawa and suspended Rooney to provide the penetration his side lacked.
Newcastle pressed well and fouled high up the pitch
Although Newcastle were more cautious in their approach, they definitely did not wait for United to come to their half and hand the ball over. Right through the 90 minutes, Remy and the midfield were consistently enforcing the task of closing down the United players as quick as possible. This barely gave time to the already struggling United midfield to pass the ball around. With the Newcastle players constantly hounding the United players, this restricted Jones and Cleverley from bringing the ball from defence to attack, thus effectively neutralizing any threat from the middle of the park. There were plenty of instances where either Jones or Cleverley had possession of the ball but had all forward passages firmly blocked, forcing them to pass the ball back to either Evans or Vidic, who were ultimately forced to play the long ball forward which Newcastle dealt with ease.
Another tactic Newcastle employed early on in the game was to break any tempo that the United players managed to build by breaking up play with smart fouls. The United players were intentionally fouled in the middle of the park, before any string of passes were made possible. This threw the home team off track as they struggled to construct any sort of productive play.
Manchester United’s ineffective wideplay
With United starting with Jones and Cleverley in midfield, Pardew knew that much of United’s attacking threat would originate from the wings rather than from down the centre. The Newcastle full backs were well aware of this and concentrated on keeping Januzaj and Nani quiet, a job which they did quite well. United played the majority of the game with inverted wingers. With the ever inconsistent Nani operating down the left flank, Sissoko was given the added duty of assisting Debuchy in stopping any crosses from coming in. The Portuguese international’s threat of cutting in was also nullified by the two. On the other flank, Januzaj was warded off with the likes of Santon assisted by Gouffran tasked with stopping the young Belgian. Although Januzaj did manage to get the better of the two on a couple of occasions, the rest of the Newcastle defence coped just fine with crosses and key passes effectively blocked from reaching their intended targets.
Newcastle’s lack of counter attacking threat
The Magpies’ plan was executed very well in terms of the defensive aspect but the counter attacking threat that one expected to see never really materialized. Cabaye was given freedom in the centre of the pitch and was supposed to support Remy. Eventually the French midfielder was the goal scorer with a good late run and composed finish but goal aside, he had little impact. With Remy isolated and the likes of Gouffran and Sissoko focusing on their above mentioned defensive duties, Newcastle were largely limited to long shots. In fact Debuchy’s good run and shot late in the 1st half was as threatening as they looked until the goal. The plan for Pardew was probably always to keep the opponents quiet and then look for the winner later with Ben Arfa coming off the bench. He got his breakthrough soon after the introduction of Ben Arfa and his side did the rest to take the 3 points home. But on other days, when the opponents may not be in such abject attacking form, the lack of an attacking outlet will come back to bite them.
The siege that never came
Grass is green; water is wet; Manchester United when down a goal at home will batter the living daylights out of the opposition in the last 10 minutes. The first 2 are still universal truths but unfortunately for the red half of Manchester, the last point isn’t anymore. The Champions’ ability to find late goals was half fact and half legend. Commentators would talk about it, opposition managers would talk about, players, fans everyone. Even when they were having a nightmare of a game the last 10 minutes would always see a surge of red laying siege to the opposition goal. But not anymore it would seem. For the 2nd game in a row the home side never looked like they had it in them to conjure up a late equalizer. Tactically Moyes made all the right moves. Valencia was brought on for Rafael to provide an additional attacking threat on the right. Zaha was given his debut in the hope that his unpredictability would pay dividends and Anderson was brought on to provide attacking impetus down the middle. Another disappointing result will mean the spotlight on Moyes will be that much brighter but the problems at Old Trafford cannot simply be dumped on the new manager. The problems run much deeper.
Newcastle came to Manchester with a well defined plan and executed it to the letter. They got the rub of the green they deserved with a ricochet freeing Sissoko down the right for the goal but they matched Manchester United step for step and came away with an important 3 points which is no less than they deserve. For Manchester United, it’s been a horrendous week with back to back defeats at home. They’ve picked up just 2 points in their last 4 league games. Heading into the busy winter period, Moyes and his men need to arrest the slide and fast.
By Arnab Ray and Razim Refai
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