Manchester United claimed a 3-1 win over Newcastle after a performance that stuttered to life in the second half.
United started anxiously in defence and De Gea had to be alert to a shot that deflected off Lindelof.
The hosts were desperate for inspiration and it arrived just before the half-hour; Rashford flashed into life with a nutmeg on the left hand side, and then cut into the box to finish at the near post for his 18th goal of the season.
But it was a lead they scarcely deserved, and the footballing gods decreed that parity must be restored; Saint-Maximin brought a save from De Gea, and from the resultant corner, Maguire headed directionless in purpose but straight to the Newcastle forward who scored a fine half-volley.
Solskjaer observed as the familiar problems played out – a change or two has such a profound impact on this team, and at times it felt like the attack was an island, out on its own, with the midfield of Fred and Matic often getting too close and rarely in the middle of the pitch.
It seemed as if Matic was instructed to play further up the field and it worked, although there was an early second half storm to navigate; and it was Matic who was involved in the crucial moment of the game, persisting with a ball in the box and passing it across. Fernandes got a crucial touch to divert the ball to James, and United, who hadn’t even looked like scoring one, now had a second.
The goal settled Solskjaer’s team down. Martial – previously anonymous – showed a flash to test Darlow in the visiting goal.
The result was made safe with 17 minutes to go when Willock made contact with Rashford in the box. These days, penalties are awarded for such things, and Bruno Fernandes – as he did here – scores penalties.
The rest of the game was a procession and United were comfortable enough to give a few minutes to Shola Shoretire at the end.
Was this a watershed moment? Have United found a key to turning poor performances into wins against defensive opponents? You’d like to think so, but the reality is that this is a bad Newcastle side, and Solskjaer was rewarded for ambition. It was not convincing, but all that matters at the moment is getting the results to qualify for the Champions League so that they can strengthen to avoid performances like what we saw in the first half. Worked last summer, right?
So De Gea was back in; Lindelof too. The selection of Matic was enforced by injuries while Dan James played his way into a right-hand side that needs competition. Martial was up front.
Where to begin? It seems almost redundant to point out how poor the centre of defence is. It’s obvious that a midfield that isn’t strong when it comes to possession or dictating the pace of the game is going to create an issue. And once again it’s one thing for these matters to count against United when it’s against a top team – but against the worst teams in the division, in a very poor Premier League?
It’s a reminder that the first choice team might only be three or four players away from a team that can genuinely challenge and yet they can miss only one or two and look unimpressive against some of the worst teams in Premier League history. The gap is significant.
When that is the case then you look to the management and the coaching and hope that they will compensate for these problems. Sure, you can only play the hand you’re dealt, but Solskjaer has had long enough to change his hand, and there has to be some form of answer to stop these self-inflicted messes. It’s not a strength to play with the ball in our defence. The marking system on set-pieces and even in general open play seems basic and easily exposed. Yes, the defenders are poor, but there can be organisational compensation for this. Sometimes it feels as if United are playing to their weaknesses.
If Solskjaer tried and failed, then at least we would know that he is aware it isn’t working. Instead he persists; that’s a matter of concern if this goes into next season.
De Gea 7
— United Goals ⚽️ (@UnitedGoals__) February 21, 2021