Manchester United's Polished Diamond Sparkles Against Newcastle United
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In as solid performance as we have seen from Manchester United this season, Sir Alex Ferguson's team capitalized on an electrifying first 15 minutes to put daylight between themselves and a shell-shocked Newcastle.
The hosts were thereafter resigned to playing catch up until a speculative shot-cum-cross from Tom Cleverley killed the Premier League clash off with 15 minutes to go—giving Manchester United the 3-0 victory.
Ironically, the two headed goals from defenders Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra in that blistering opening eclipsed the pre-match hype surrounding the potential attacking threat posed by Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
Not to be outdone completely, the striking duo turned providers for the two goals with invitingly placed corner kicks that the goal scorers converted adroitly thanks to intelligent running and poor marking from their Newcastle counterparts.
Probably, as a result of previous defensive lapses and vulnerability, Ferguson decided to go into this game with a "diamond" formation, eschewing the wingers that traditionally have characterized United’s style of play and creating a more resilient "core."
For the first 15 minutes they were scintillating. Slick, accurate passing, intelligent movement off the ball and penetrative runs left Newcastle reeling and, if Danny Welbeck had not been so profligate with his finishing, the match could have been settled in the first twenty minutes.
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To be fair, Newcastle improved after their nightmare start, began to create chances of their own and looked like they might be getting a foothold in the game.
However, for once, United’s defence was solid and the careless lapses that have characterised recent games were not in evidence this time.
In midfield, Wayne Rooney was imperious; controlling the match from his position as head of the diamond. Michael Carrick, in his usual understated manner, was faultless, Cleverley showed further evidence of his prodigious potential and and Shinji Kagawa struck up an encouraging partnership with Rafael before Sir Alex replaced him with Antonio Valencia to restore a bit of width after 55 minutes.
The back four were as solid as we have seen them; clearly benefiting from the extra protection provided by the solidity ahead.
Perhaps the only performance that will leave Sir Alex less than fully satisfied was that of the enigma that is David de Gea.
Whilst he is, without question, one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League, he shakes the confidence of his fellow defenders when he is under pressure from crosses.
Several times he "flapped" and missed or punched the ball weakly into the path of opposing attackers. Most notably, he came and missed completely from a cross before twisting acrobatically to claw a Papisse Cisse effort from the line and controversially deny Newcastle a lifeline that they believed they deserved.
TV replays showed later that the ball had, in fact, not crossed the line.
A worthy win then, for the Reds, but they need to maintain the quality of the first 20 minutes for longer periods if they are to be serious challengers this year.
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