Coming into this game in poor form, a manager under pressure whose tactics were being questioned, and desperately in need of a win, United faced an unenviable task at Old Trafford. The Magpies could do with 3 points too.
Manchester United’s Starting Approach
The home side lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Lukaku, Rashford and Martial leading the line as Alexis warmed the bench. McTominay and Matic were in support either side of Pogba who had responsibility at both ends of the pitch. Man Utd favoured crosses and long balls out wide in the early stages.
Defensively, it was a low-block back 4 with one of the midfield 3 dropping back on occasion to help initiate attacks from the back. Newcastle welcomed this approach as it allowed them to press higher up.
Newcastle’s Starting Approach
Newcastle lined up in a 4-4-2, with Muto and Ayoze upfront as a duo for the first time this season. Despite the team shape being familiar, those two offered a different and more energetic dimension offensively. Joselu and Rondon are more physical and prefer the ball played into them first, looking to link up. Ayoze and Muto offered the chance to run in behind, which suited Shelvey’s passing range.
Newcastle showed preference to attack from central areas, Kenedy and Ritchie influencing the game when tucking inside rather than out wide.
Defensively, it was the usual low-block back 4 with the Shelvey Diame duo from last season looking to protect them. However, it was the aerial threat of Man Utd that occupied them most. Lascelles and Fernandez were in for a busy afternoon against crosses and long balls.
Newcastle started out the game full of running and determination. What was particularly pleasing was the amount of bodies further up the pitch with all 6 of Muto, Ayoze, Kenedy, Ritchie, Shelvey and Diame seeing the ball aplenty in the final third.
Despite Man Utd having an extra man in the midfield (at the start of the game), Newcastle found passing options to the most advanced Newcastle players easy to come by.
By half-time, Newcastle had made 8 key passes to Man Utd’s 5. Critically though, Shelvey was responsible for 3 of those, whilst none of the midfielders for Man Utd had made even 1.
This, coupled with Newcastle’s 12 interceptions to Man Utd’s 1 by half time, suggested of the two sides’ approaches, Newcastle were getting more joy out of their passing (despite Man Utd making more overall).
Something different to note in the first half was the movement of Kenedy and Ritchie. Instead of staying wide they made runs beyond Muto and Ayoze on quite a few occasions to get into the box. On 20 minutes Ayoze had an effort from outside the area that De Gea comfortably dealt with, but waiting in the box for a chance were the two wingers.
Given that neither Ayoze or Muto boasts much height, this made sense. Rafa had planned for the fact neither would likely beat the centre backs in the air so changed the winger roles to accommodate.
What it shows is a nice variety to our attacking approach, for example all 3 of our goals at St James’ Park so far have been headers from crosses and by scoring through different tactics in this game it shows this team can avoid a tag of predictability (going forward) that should help in future games.
Defensively, Newcastle had to deal with 2 different approaches from Man Utd. Newcastle were comfortable in the early exchanges with Man Utd’s midfield. Mourinho made a tactical change on 18 minutes, bringing on Mata for Bailey and dropping McTominay into the centre back position.
Mata’s presence changed the defensive task. Whereas Newcastle could position themselves between 2 rigid midfield and attacking blocks before, the Man Utd number 8 was more likely to drift in between the lines and link play. Indeed, he made 1 key pass within minutes of coming on and was Man Utd’s 3rd most accurate passer.
There wasn’t too much pressure to deal with in the first half but Man Utd did have a couple of free headers from crosses, a sign of struggles to come in the 2nd half.
Arguably, the single-biggest tactical adjustment was made for the start of the half: Pogba was to essentially replicate Pirlo’s deep-lying role with Juventus. To facilitate this, McTominay was substituted for Fellaini (who became a supporting striker of sorts) and Matic became a centre back alongside Smalling.
By positioning himself as far deep as Man United’s backline, Paul was able to reliably find space and pick out diagonals for taller targets (such as Lukaku & Fellaini) to latch onto.
Another key difference between the halves was the tempo: there was now real urgency for Man United to catch Newcastle in transitional phases. With Pogba hanging back, the Red Devils would push upward of 5 attackers to find gaps in Newcastle’s defense. The aggression was paying dividends; Manchester United found more defensive breakdowns as the half unfolded.
Perhaps the straw that broke Newcastle’s defensive back was Kenedy pulling up injured in the 67th minute. Within moments of his exit, Newcastle would concede their first goal of the game, and counter-attacks would become more of a rarity.
DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Ritchie had the tall order of keeping Anthony Martial in check on their right flank, and it was with the substitution of Alexis Sanchez for Marcus Rashford that Martial truly began to impose himself on the match. Whether he was drifting into other channels to find gaps or turning defenders with bursts of acceleration, Martial’s play was instrumental in keeping Man United attacks alive.
After the 70’, Newcastle managed only 1 shot on goal, while Manchester United had 7. The balance of play had effectively tilted to the Red Devils’ favour, and the biggest factor was placing the keys to the attack entirely in Paul Pogba’s deep-lying, free-roaming role. His vision and exceptional technique allowed Manchester United to exploit increasingly dangerous scoring opportunities.
By The Numbers
How the Goals Happened
7’ Kenedy (MNU 0-1 NEW)
A throw-in by Yedlin cut through the Pogba-Matic-McTominay trio who were all positioned too close to each other. Ayoze had the ball near the halfway line and played a great pass for Kenedy’s run. Kenedy peeled off Young to get in a dangerous position which was only available to him because Bailey stepped out of defence and finished his chance superbly into the bottom corner.
10’ Muto (MNU 0-2 NEW)
A brilliant ball in from the right by Shelvey was controlled well by Muto. Newcastle had 4 men in the box when Muto controlled it, a credit to being ambitious early on. Smalling was marking Ayoze, and Bailey was on Diame which left Muto against Young, Muto spun young and finished very well on the turn. De Gea will feel he should have done better as the shot was fairly central.
70’ Mata Freekick (MNU 1-2 NEW)
Anthony Martial, ever-so-deft at finding gaps in the defence, was occupying the central channel in a Man United counter-attack. Mo Diamé had vacated the marking zone in front of the defence, as he was staying tight to Lukaku (who was also marked by Lascelles & Fernandez). Martial received the pass in space and Diamé rushed out to close down the potential exploit. Martial coolly turned Diamé in bursting toward the penalty box, and Diamé cynically fouled Martial as a result.
Standing over the prime location of the free kick, which near the right edge of the penalty box, was Alexis Sanchez & Juan Mata. Sanchez performed a dummy run, and Mata curved his kick over the wall, into the lower right corner of the goal. It was near-perfect in placement, as Dubravka had little opportunity for deflection.
76’ Martial (MNU 2-2 NEW)
Anthony Martial allowed Manchester United’s attackers to take positions deep into Newcastle’s final third by slipping past Yedlin & Ritchie. A probing pass was cleared to Pogba, who was standing at the left edge of the penalty box. That clearance was headed to Martial, who was positioned on the left side of the box, and was closely watched by Yedlin & Ritchie.
Pogba was unmarked at this point and burst forward into the box, and Martial played a beautiful chip into the path of Pogba. Pogba one-timed a backheel into the path of Martial, who had left behind Yedlin & Ritchie in his burst toward the center of the box. Martial trapped the pass and then drove the ball into the lower left corner of the goal.
90’ Sanchez (MNU 3-2 NEW)
Romelu Lukaku, positioned on the inside right channel, dribbled into Newcastle’s final third with Jacob Murphy marking him. Scanning the box, he found 4 Manchester United players surrounded by 5 Newcastle players. Paul Pogba broke the right edge of the penalty box and Lukaku, spotting that movement, played it into the box for Pogba.
Pogba then rolled the ball toward the right touchline, where Ashley Young then whipped a cross into the middle box, drifting just outside the 6-yard box. Alexis Sanchez, waiting on the end of that service, was able to hold off Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin, and head toward the left side of the goal frame.
MUFC’s Man of the Match: Paul Pogba
- 111 touches
- 90% pass accuracy
- 87 passes
- 6 shots
- 4 clearances
- 3 shots on target
- 3 aerial duels won
- 2 chances created
- 2 take-ons
- 2 tackles
- 1 assist
Was ineffective in the first half, but so were most of the Red Devils. After Pogba was moved to a deep-lying position, his vision, technique, and attacking prowess spearheaded Manchester United’s 2nd half comeback.
Honourable Mention: Anthony Martial
Quietly sustained several of Man United’s attacks, scored the equalizing goal, and also contributed 3 key passes. His ability to evade Yedlin on the Newcastle’s right flank, as well as causing Diamé problems when drifting centrally, was critical the Red Devils’ 2nd half resurgence.
NUFC’s Man of the Match: Jonjo Shelvey
- 67 Touches
- 12 Attacking Third Passes Completed
- 11 Ball Recoveries
- 5/5 Tackles Completed
- 4 Key Passes
- 1 Assist
- 1 Shot on Target
- 1/1 Dribble Completed
Newcastle’s best outfield player. Was the most effective defender outside of Newcastle’s backline, and he was involved in nearly every Newcastle shot on target. It was an extremely well-rounded performance for Jonjo.
Honourable Mention: Martin Dubravka
Before conceding three extremely well-taken goals, Dubravka continued his string of stellar performances. Was comfortable handling service and connected on a few challenging punches. Martin could hardly be blamed for the ones that went in, and he did well to keep some nervy shots out.
If there ever were a “tale of two halves”, this match would make for an ideal rendition of that story. Newcastle were bold and confident in the opening stanza, scoring well-earned goals. Manchester United looked to be out of the match by half-time, with Mourinho’s exit being hailed.
However, Jose Mourinho showed he still has progressive tactical nous, with several sound tactical switches. These wrinkles changed the complexion of the match, with Newcastle finding it just as hard to build attacks as was to prevent Manchester scoring chances.
Newcastle will rightfully feel like at least one point was left on the table, although Rafa’s inability to address the Pogba switch begs for questions to be asked.