Manchester United vs. Newcastle United: 6 Things We Learned
But it was with a sense of disbelief that we viewed the team selection. As soon as the names Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs scrolled across the screen, we knew there would be trouble.
It soon emerged that Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Daniel Welbeck were injured, which meant that ironically, the fans having demanded that chances be given to younger players, Scott Wootton and Ryan Tunnicliffe were added to the roster.
We've said it before and we'll say it again. United are going to murder a team some time soon, and league position won't protect them.
But first, they've got to sort out the defence, which, in United's case, is down to the entire team. Too often today, players like Paul Scholes and Patrice Evra jogged or stood as sharper Newcastle players passed them.
Still, if you're a neutral, why would you watch anyone else?
United league matches have produced 76 goals this season at an average of four per match. In the ones they have won, United alone have averaged three goals a match.
The trouble is that only seven teams have conceded more, and United simply cannot continue to allow midfield to be overrun.
United Simply Cannot Play Carrick, Scholes and Giggs in the Same Team
The only previous time this season that the trio appeared together was against Tottenham Hotspur.
As we've suggested before, any opposing coach seeing two of Carrick, Scholes and Giggs on the United team sheet must be licking his lips at the prospect.
It doesn't matter that Scholes was one of the finest players in the world of his generation, maybe even one of the best midfielders ever.
Or that Ryan Giggs is the greatest player of the Premier League era. Or that Carrick with the right support is one of the best playmakers in Europe. (That is not to say that his first half wasn't as poor as the equivalent period was good against Sunderland.)
When two of them play together, there is no pace in United's midfield, and it simply gets overrun.
So Alan Pardew had six first-choice players missing today and was forced to field a young and energetic midfield, and yes...United's midfield got overrun.
The problem was immediately obvious the moment that Scholes was substituted by Cleverley. Suddenly, there was pace all through United's team from front to back. He links midfield to attack perfectly and allows Carrick to play the role he is picked for.
This was aptly demonstrated by United's winning goal. It was a simply exquisite flipped Carrick pass right into the path of a breaking Chicharito, who duly sent the fans into seventh heaven.
Not only that, but Giggs was transformed when the young midfielder came on and ran the left side of Newcastle's defence ragged.
So, Sir Alex, if you play Scholes and Giggs against a rampant West Brom side this Saturday, expect to be beaten.
The Scottish knight isn't stupid, and therefore, we would have to assume that his hand was forced today by Rooney, Young, Kagawa and Welbeck's injuries. Surely at least two of those will be fit in time for Saturday?
Chicharito Must Be Retained at All Costs
Has there ever been a better instinctive finisher in the English game than Chicharito?
Today, he was simply immense, and by the time he was substituted, he could hardly walk. He left the field to a standing ovation.
He is humble, self-effacing, engaging and unfailingly puts the team first. We can forgive him the handful of offsides because he timed his final run to perfection, sending Old Trafford into seventh heaven.
It is no wonder that he has been likened to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer because he waits without complaining until called upon, whatever the stage of the match. He then consistently gives 110 percent.
He often scores, and they are usually crucial goals, like today.
In a season where notionally, he was pushed down to fourth in the strikers' pecking order, he has simply demanded that the manager pick him.
His strike rate this season is one goal for just over 100 minutes on the pitch, which, to put it in perspective, is not much worse than Robin van Persie.
He may never score a more important goal, and today, he was, by a country mile, the Man of the Match. With better luck, he could have had four. When he scored in the 90th minute, there were grown men close to tears.
He is a gem.
And we love him.
Van Persie Could Be United's Greatest Signing Ever
It is a measure of how well Chicharito played that on any other day Van Persie would have been Man of the Match.
Has there ever been a more professional player for United? He simply never has a bad game.
In a match where United's midfield was misfiring badly in the first half, van Persie managed to link front to back.
Last season, he was arguably one of the five best strikers in the world. How can we measure his achievements this season?
He could well go on to score 40 or more once United have a settled team. He may favour his left foot, but it is a mark of his own high standards that he should have had a hat trick today.
On current form, when Rooney returns, Sir Alex must play Hernandez, van Persie and Rooney somehow.
As we said previously, sometime soon, a team is going to get buried. If they meet United on a day when Rooney and the rest are also on song, it could be any team in the Premier League that gets thrashed.
That is assuming that the defence can stop leaking goals.
The Defence Still Needs Sorting
At this rate, Sir Alex Ferguson won't make it to his 71st birthday. He must have a strong heart (as well as lungs!)
He needs to offer Gary Neville all it would take to cancel his Sky Sports contract and urgently take over United's defensive coaching duties.
Or Tony Pulis. Stoke City have conceded less than half the goals United have. Sunderland were four points off the drop zone yesterday, and they have conceded four less than United.
Just when you thought it was safe to come out from behind the sofa, Nemanja Vidic was returned to the bench and United's defending was shambolic.
They have hardly fielded the same defensive lineup in two consecutive matches this season, but that has been down to injuries. By Saturday, the entire back line will be fit.
Time to stop tinkering Sir Alex, please?
Once again, however, the supporters aren't stupid. They may talk about United needing to improve their defence, but like Sir Alex, they know that defensive duties are from front to back.
And as we've said earlier, United cannot continue to rely on scoring one more than the opposition when half the battle is in stopping the midfield from being overrun.
Sir Alex's promise that the title would not be lost on goal difference is looking empty now.
The midfield cannot take all the blame, but at least two of the goals were down to dreadful defending.
Carrick is partially to blame for the first goal after losing the ball in the centre, but Paul Scholes simply should not be playing if he allows James Perch to run past him while he watches the Newcastle player help himself to a goal.
If anything, the second one was even worse. Danny Simpson didn't have any player to waltz pass as he moved into the right corner and centred a ball that Jonny Evans put away as expertly as he had at the other end of the pitch.
Evra stood with his arms behind his back waiting for Simpson to shoot, but he simply ran past. This time, people might see part of the value that Ashley Young brings, because his replacement, Giggs was nowhere to be seen.
(By the way, through what definition of FA laws was Cisse not interfering with play when he was blatantly offside?)
And for the third goal, Evra lost Cisse.
Cleverley Must Be Persevered with
Let's hope that we wake up on New Year's Day to read that the Glazers have given Sir Alex a belated 71st birthday present of Wesley Sneijder or Kevin Strootman. Because Sir Alex's protestations that there is no area of the squad that needs strengthening is frankly ludicrous.
On the basis of the first-half performance today, Scholes and Giggs should retire in January, and Michael Carrick is not the player he can be if paired with another slower midfielder.
That much was immediately apparent as soon as Cleverley came on today. He was electric and can go on to become a United fixture for the next 10 years or more.
He linked midfield to attack, scared the living daylights out of Newcastle and gave Michael Carrick the precious extra yard he needs to show he can be one of the best deep lying playmakers in Europe.
For as long as Carrick has Scholes or Giggs alongside him in central midfield, he will be under pressure. And then, as in the first half today, he can look pretty average.
Clearly Scholes was under instructions to press forward today, but when United lost the ball, there was only Carrick at home as the young Newcastle midfielders charged forward. Why? Because Scholesy's legs have gone.
And Ryan didn't look so cute in the first half either, torn between enterprise and concern for what was happening beside and behind him.
Once Cleverley emerged, Giggs was reborn, a man inspired, turning the opposition inside out and actually putting over centre after centre.
Meanwhile, if Anderson retains his form, United can rotate him, Cleverley and Carrick, perming any two from three, but they will only be the force they truly can be if a top-class, pacy centre midfielder joins them. That is the key to Europe this year.
David De Gea Is Not Yet the Finished Article
But he must be No. 1.
We expect great things of United goalkeepers, but that is because we are comparing them with some of the greatest keepers ever.
However, we should remember he is still only 22, and both Schmeichel and Van Der Sar were the finished product by the time Sir Alex signed them.
To criticise him for the first goal would be harsh. It was raining "stair rods" for the entire match, the pitch was skiddy and the ball and his gloves were wet. However, the purists would say he should have caught it rather than parry it.
No doubt he is his own harshest critic and will continue to refine the rough edges, but you cannot learn the instinctive saves that De Gea has, nor the extraordinary reaction times.
De Gea is fit. He's had his wisdom teeth removed. He can become one of the world's greatest keepers.
Sir Alex must stick with him.