Manchester United vs Newcastle 5 things we learnt

Manchester United came back from a goal down to rescue a point against bottom of the league Newcastle. In the first half, the Magpies took the lead through Allan Saint-Maximin’s piece of magic. The hosts were in full control during the first half and should have extended their lead before the break. United came out in the second half with a bit more urgency, but were still very poor. Super-sub Edinson Cavani got the equaliser after he got on the end of Diogo Dalot’s pinpoint cross.

The Reds were unable to find a winner and held on to get a point at St James’ Park. David de Gea kept United from losing the game late on with some outstanding fingertip saves. The Red Devils were extremely poor, despite their 16 day break and should have lost the game. So let’s take a look at five things we learnt from this league encounter.

1. Slow start costly against Newcastle

When Ralf Rangnick first came in there was a sense of excitement surrounding the possibility of fast, aggressive pressing. However, in the last two games there has been almost no pressing style at all. The Old Trafford faithful saw 30 minutes of pressing against Crystal Palace and that was the last of it. Against relegation-threatened Newcastle, United were forced into errors due to their opponents press. This was particularly evident during the early stages of the first half. Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane were both pressed into mistakes early on and this set the tone for the rest of the game. The start of the match consisted of players not winning their individual battles, misplaced passes and a concerning lack of urgency. The Magpies were the complete opposite and this got St James’ Park rocking.

Saint-Maximin opened the scoring with a delightful finish, but this goal came from United slow and sluggish start to the game. Varane was caught on the ball and Maguire was all over the place. Longstaff intervened and set Saint-Maximin away. The Frenchman found the top corner with a sensational strike. The home side were ahead and United only had themselves to blame. On too many occasions this season, the Reds have had to concede to get going. This is an area Rangnick must address quickly.

2. A change in formation needed?

Rangnick has sent his team out in a 4-2-2-2 formation in all three league games that he has been in charge for. There were signs of this system not working against Norwich and they were apparent yet again against Newcastle. At halftime, the Reds boss went to more of 4-1-3-2 in hope of getting his side further up the pitch. However, this formation is not sustainable and was merely a sign of desperation to rescue something. It is likely that German manager switches to a 3-4-1-2 which he has deployed at some of his previous clubs. But, this would mean that United’s wide players would be forced to sit on the bench.

The Reds have many players who prefer to play out wide such as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood and even Anthony Martial. Rashford, Greenwood and Martial would be able to provided competition to Cavani and Ronaldo up top, but where would this leave Sancho? The England international was brought on at halftime against Newcastle and was very lively. The winger constantly beat the Newcastle fullbacks and offered United some much-needed width.

Rangnick has a real dilemma on his hands and doesn’t have time to experiment with fixtures against Burnley and Wolves coming up in less than a weeks time. However, it is clear that the 4-2-2-2 formation is not suited to this current set of players. Many players such as Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford have been underperforming and this may be due to them being played out of their best position.

3. Poor displays against Newcastle

Although pundits will argue that many of the players were “rusty” due to a 16 day break, some of the performances against Newcastle were unacceptable. These poor performances are happening too frequently to be considered anomalies. Maguire has been incredibly poor since the beginning of the season and reports are now emerging of a distanced relationship between himself and Cristiano Ronaldo. The club-captain should be dropped and may have been if it wasn’t for Victor Lindelof testing positive for Covid-19. Eric Bailly has been called back from international duty for the Burnley game and this may be the result of poor performances from United’s centre backs.

Varane was very complacent during this match and probably shouldn’t have started the game. Fred’s fine form lasted two games before he was back to his usual self. The Brazilian was taken off at halftime and this was likely due to the amount of times he ignored the forward runs of teammates.Scott McTominay seems to be one of the first names on the team sheets despite his average performances. The midfielder lost many of his duels in the first half and was lucky that he wasn’t taken off at the break as well.

Fernandes and Rashford have both really struggled to adapt to Rangnick’s style of play, but both were also in poor form before his arrival. On current form neither deserve to start and should be dropped. Too many stars in the current side see themselves as undroppable and the Reds boss must also address this. Ronaldo was anonymous but had no supply yet again. Mason Greenwood was unlucky to be taken off and will probably start again against Burnley.

Rangnick will expect a much better showing against Burnley and won’t stand for players not doing the basics on the pitch.

4. Lack of creativity

One criticism of Rangnick’s style has been the lack of goals. In recent weeks United’s xG has been relatively low and this may be because of Rangnick trying to make the Reds more defensively solid. Although the Reds got clean-sheets against Palace and Norwich, they still conceded far too many chances. While, at the other end of the pitch they haven’t been great either. The return of Paul Pogba will improve United’s creative output. But, the Reds must find a solution for the games against Burnley and Wolves. United will be without Fernandes for the Burnley game due to his suspension.

This could offer a path for Donny van de Beek into the team. The Dutchman may be the perfect fit for one of the number eight positions in Rangnick’s side. It is imperative that Sancho also starts against Burnley. Sancho, 21, was United’s main outlet in the second half against Newcastle. The winger supplied Cavani with multiple crosses and was a constant threat to the Newcastle backline. Rangnick must address United’s issues going forward if he wants to get his side back into the top four.

5. Cavani the super sub against Newcastle

Edison Cavani has endured a torrid time since his contract extension in the summer. The striker lost his place in the side due to the arrival of Ronaldo and then has had injury after injury. Despite this, it is becoming clear that Rangnick must find a place for “El Matador”. Cavani is one of the only players whose form didn’t drop under Solskjaer and he’s carried on doing his job of scoring under Ralph. The poacher was brought on after the break with United behind. Cavani snatched at his first chance and should have really done better for his standards. He made no mistake with the second chance and he got United level.

It is almost certain that he will start against Burnley. The Uruguayan simply offers too much to be left out. He presses when out of possession and his movement is second to none. As Gary Neville said, Cavani also bridges the gap between United’s superstars and the youngsters. If United are to have a successful season they must keep Cavani fit and use him sparingly. Cavani’s age means he can’t start every game but his presence around the training ground will only be positive.

Author: Rajan Sangha

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