Reaction as United win on Boxing Day.
Every game is a new trial for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with a melodramatic disaster or a realistic one only ever ninety minutes away. The scale of that disaster depends on the quality of the opposition, and when Matty Longstaff repeated his trick of earlier in the season, eyebrows were raised and people were preparing to ask questions.
Are those questions invalidated by the comeback? No, but, if you do ask the question, you have to be prepared to accept the answer and not just dismiss it because of the quality of the opponent, or because it doesn’t fit your pre-conceived idea of doom and disaster.
You have to give credit where it is due and say that Solskjaer, despite the concerns, didn’t get his team selection wrong. And this United team, who have faced a familiar criticism about motivation and ability to break down ‘lowly’ opponents, didn’t need half time and a blast from the manager to get themselves in gear. It was an impressive first half from the minute the hosts fell behind.
Half time did give United chance to reflect and that was the time to take stock about the poor start. The defence was at sixes and sevens, leaving huge gaps; they should have conceded a goal a minute or two before they did. The issues with Victor Lindelof’s positioning and Luke Shaw’a conditioning were exposed on both occasions. Newcastle were able to exploit the space and ultimately earned a reward.
Teams are targeting United’s vulnerabilities in defence and frankly it was a surprise that Watford wasn’t the moment which prompted Solskjaer to change. One is tempted to feel that he deserves credit for trying not to panic and to give players another chance to get over their errors. As a team, United rallied to recover in the first half, and therefore you have to give a pass if you are evaluating fairly.
Early in the second half, Newcastle conspired to gift-wrap another goal for Martial. It looked as if the floodgates would open but Solskjaer used the three goal buffer to make changes, removing all the urgency and attacking quality from the game.
Lingard, Mata and Pogba came on; the latter found it difficult to get into a groove with team-mates who were just not at the races.
The last thirty minutes of the game was a non-event; one might say that it was a nice change, but United are trying to instil a sense of urgency over games and not periods of games and the players who did come on are nonetheless still fighting for their own futures at the club. It was not helpful for any of them, but then again, nobody did themselves any further good with the slipshod nature of the end of this match.
It gave plenty of time for critics to muse just how much of the result was a consequence of Newcastle’s dreadful defending. The answer is that it was probably very much to do with that. But when questions are being asked, all you can do is answer them. United did that. But you can imagine the same questions will be asked again in future.
De Gea 6