Manchester United recorded a crucial win at Newcastle – and gave their manager a huge boost – with a late flurry of goals adding a certain gloss at a time when it was much needed.
After a freak own goal, United responded positively. Harry Maguire levelled, and Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford all scored after the 85th minute in a thrilling conclusion.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s selection raised eyebrows – some decisions were enforced, others not. Either way, it was asking a lot to place faith in the same players who have had so many chances.
When you’re down on luck you end up with freak moments like what afflicted United within two minutes. Luke Shaw could consider himself unfortunate for the way the ball flew off him into the net from a harmless cross – but the problem is that United are the makers of their own downfall and the move could all be traced to the other side of the pitch where Victor Lindelof had committed himself around the halfway line and was so easily turned. Solskjaer’s team – as they so often do – looked stretched and in trouble from that moment.
The reaction was somewhat positive. Mata, James and Fernandes combined in the twentieth minute for the latter to put the ball in the net. The former was offside. It gave some hope that a comeback could be on. Three minutes later, Maguire met Mata’s corner with a fine header to level, a moment of personal vindication for the United skipper. In fairness, his performance, alongside Mata’s, was the standout of the first half, so it was fitting that combination resulted in the equaliser.
Maguire goal (1-1) #mufc
— United Goals ⚽️ (@UnitedGoals__) October 17, 2020
On 30 mins, Saint-Maximin – a thorn in the side for the United defence – tested De Gea from long range. Before half-time, Rashford and James had similar attempts of their own.
Early in the second half, Callum Wilson forced De Gea into a fantastic save.
Then, drama – a VAR check resulted in a penalty for United for a foul on Rashford. It seemed generous – one of those where a different angle could suggest a different answer. Fernandes’ kick was saved brilliantly. From the resultant corner, Maguire’s header was cleared off the line by Shelvey. Later, the captain had a shot on goal himself from long range. By then, Pogba and van de Beek were on in an attempt to win it.
United’s performance had been good if not brilliant. They had attempted over 20 efforts on goal but seemed destined to end frustrated before they finally got the breakthrough in the 85th minute.
Van de Beek, Fernandes, Mata, Rashford – this was the sequence of passes before Fernandes got the ball again, just behind the backline, and fired across goal in via the post.
Bruno Fernandes’s goal was Oleball in full effect 💉
— RiZzy🔴 (@RiZzyUTD) October 17, 2020
As Newcastle threw everything at it, United broke and got a third through an unlikely scorer; Rashford returned a 1-2 to Wan-Bissaka, who struck a powerful near post drive from the edge of the area. It was a truly fantastic goal from a player who needed it.
OH MY WORD WAN-BISSAKA..pic.twitter.com/H91yfjPWrc
— 🐐™ (@TheFergusonCode) October 17, 2020
United weren’t done. Deep into stoppage time, Fernandes – well and truly recovered from a dip in form and that crisis of confidence moment – hit a raking pass to get Rashford in behind the defence. The England striker got the goal he deserved by finishing across the goalkeeper.
Rashford goal (1-4) #mufc
— United Goals ⚽️ (@UnitedGoals__) October 17, 2020
A 4-1, win then. And one, whilst not perfect, was a huge step forward based on what we have seen so far this campaign. The win wasn’t fortuitous even if the size of it might have been generous.
In the reign of every Manchester United manager in recent times, there has been a moment where the balance of transition shifts, and the man in charge is placed with full responsibility rather than his predecessor.
That does not mean that issues from those previous reigns do not still continue to impact the club. And of course the ownership continues to. But you take into account the issues, you look at the selection and turnover as well as the time in charge and now, with four transfer windows (three if we give a pass on the first) and twenty-two months in charge, it’s fair to criticise Ole without always adding a caveat.
It’s fair to question the defence selection. Fair to question the midfield. Fair to question why Van de Beek continues to be an expensive mascot. Fair to point the finger as squarely at Solskjaer as it is at the owners for the mess of the transfer window.
Fair, ultimately, to put the manager on the stand when he makes such a bold selection as he did tonight. One couldn’t accuse him of shirking. If you were of a cynical disposition you might even look at the fact he picked his first four signings and think it was a message.
And therefore you might look at the fact three of them scored as a huge boost. You might also think Dan James’ shift, whilst unspectacular, answered a few critics.
A comprehensive defeat and tonight’s result could have been terminal. A comprehensive win doesn’t reverse that, it merely delays the talk. For how long? We won’t know, yet. Maybe the only thing we do know is that Juan Mata appears key to how fluid this United team look in attack. In an emergency, where many players are affected by confidence and consistency, Mata is a one-man island of composure.
Two years ago United were inspired by Alexis Sanchez to perform a turnaround win against these opponents and it was merely a stay of execution for Jose Mourinho. A year ago United were defeated by this opponent and were so poor it felt as if Solskjaer might well be dismissed. It goes to prove that nothing is really proven on back of a single 90 minute showing.
United were hapless, then good, and then very good. If that’s an indication of how the season will go then it’s probably worth delaying a verdict.
De Gea 7
Van De Beek