Manchester United are unlikely to have opportunities as gilded as the ones that have fallen to them in the last couple of weeks to overtake their city rival, Manchester City. The Blackburn match was supposed to be United's opportunity to overtake their rival and go top on the table.
Alas, an underestimation of the opponent led to a shocking defeat, after Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a substandard lineup against the bottom of the table side. In hindsight one can say it was an insult for which United paid dearly.
But before the recriminations got out of hand, Manchester City softened the pain of United's defeat by losing themselves at Sunderland, a result that ensured the two rivals started the new year still leveled on points.
Until the last couple of matches.
City arguably had the toughest of the two matches, since they had the stubborn Liverpool to deal with. While Newcastle are by no means pushovers, many would have been hard put to pick Newcastle over United going into the match.
That's the summary of events, and now to the match and why United lost.
BBC sports identified the problem in their match report.
The home side won the key battles in the middle, with central midfielders Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick leggy while centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones failed to cope with the muscle of strikers Ba and Shola Ameobi when the ball was pitched up.
At the other end of the field, Manchester United forwards, Rooney and Berbatov, were given little space by the Newcastle back four, with defensive midfielder Cheick Tiote producing another tireless performance as back-up
Manchester's problem in this match is named at the conclusion of the above quote, a certain Cheick Tiote. Tiote's dominance in the midfield was so palpable and so ubiquitous, it can be named United's fundamental problem in this match, the reason why they could not string together cogent attacks.
United's problem was embodied in the fact that Wayne Rooney, usually very dangerous in front of goal, was constraint to drop deep—too deep—to pick up passes. It meant that his normal potency in attack was neutralized.
Now don't get me wrong. When Rooney drops deep in the role of a quasi false nine, it can be a very effective strategy. Followers of Manchester United can recall cases in which this very strategy has worked admirably. It wasn't the case today.
The keyword is "too deep." Rooney wasn't playing the role of the creative midfielder as the reader might imagine from the above description. No, he was dropping too deep for this to be case, and this sums up United's problem in the match.
Barring the mishap of the last goal, which can happen to anyone, Newcastle's goals weren't the result of bad defending, even if the goalkeeper could have prevented the second. The goals were a result of Newcastle's dominance in the midfield.
This leads me to my final point.
I'm not one to think that buying players can solve any and every of a team's problems.
In this case, however, I think buying is the right answer. Manchester need a solid creative midfielder to link up attacks.
If not, then perhaps SAF should make Anderson permanent in the holding role and put Rooney in the creative role; Rooney already is dropping very deep anyway. Were he to do so, he'd still have two potent attackers in Danny Welbeck and Chicharito Hernandez.
What this would do, at least, is stop Rooney from dropping so deep, a role that effectively neutralizes his strength, which lies fundamentally in front of goal.
As to who the player United should buy is, I leave that to readers to suggest. Suffice to say that a lot of names have been suggested all over the World Wide Web in the last month that neither United's scouts nor the reader need break a sweat to find him.