Tom Cleverley's goal proved to be the winner, as Manchester United beat Newcastle 2-1 at Old Trafford. Most of the talk was about Darren Fletcher's inclusion in the squad. He played the full ninety minutes and, whilst it was evident that he lacks match fitness and that extra edge he once used to possess, it is great to witness him in action, after such an unlucky time out of action. He is the player that was missing in the games against Athletic Bilbao, one that hustles the opposition and is one of the few players in the squad that is more than capable of adding intensive pressure.
Marnick Vermijl and Scott Wootton made their official débuts for United. The former was not particularly impressive at the back - a big occasion for the Belgian, he looked nervous and not composed, and was responsible for allowing Shane Ferguson the time to cross the ball into the path of Papiss Cissé, who does not miss chances that fall onto his head. It is great to see the youngster start, his performances for the reserves merited a start in a low-key affair. However, not the best way to start, although with time he will most probably improve.
Alexander Büttner also featured, in what was a solid, comfortable game for the energetic left back, apart from a couple of tentative moments against former United player, Gabriel Obertan. Again, the attacking flair was on show but a more reserved and professional performance showed that he is willing to improve. Positive signs, surely he is not far off Patrice Evra now? It may be two games, but the Frenchman can now be displaced; he finally has competition.
Anderson opened the scoring in the forty-fourth minute, with a vicious strike that was too much for Robert Elliot. The Brazilian was one of the best midfielders on the pitch for large spells of the game, showing that he is not the finished article. Injuries have stalled his progress for substantial periods of his Manchester United career thus far, but last season he more than proved that he does require the quality to play a pivotal role within the squad. Self-discipline seems to be an attribute he has cleaned up on, although he is yet to perfect his defensive duties completely.
The Brazilian's partner, Cleverley, also produced another promising display. It is very hard to fault Cleverley for much, since he came into the equation against Tottenham last year (in the 3-0 win at Old Trafford). He missed a glorious chance to open his United account, having been freed by Javier Hernandéz. Far too often, talk has been about how poor his finishing is - a myth, considering that he scored some beautiful goals for Watford - and how he needs to score his first senior goal, or else he will feel the excessive pressure. Score his first professional club for the club he loves the most he did. The celebration encapsulated the passion and the relief present in his system. His goal was a precise finish into the bottom right corner of the net, after Danny Welbeck fed him with the ball.
It is clearly visible to see what the pair offer to United. More fluidity, attractive football, enthusiasm, and a strong overall relationship balances pretty well when a holding midfielder (even though Fletcher struggled for obvious reasons) is behind them, covering their tracks. That is no certainty just yet, as they did a lot of running for Scotsman. Talk of replacing Paul Scoles has emerged more frequently this season, but with Anderson and Cleverley present in the squad, it is easy to understand why Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to not spend excessively on a renowned play maker.
The return of Rooney brought about assurance in midfield. He dropped back and made quite a number of beautiful balls, one of which was a 50-yard "Hollywood" ball, which landed to Welbeck, whose shot was saved by Elliot. He controlled the game, with a point to prove, after an anonymous display against Everton. The injury has allowed him the time to think about his performances: inconsistent for a while. But, no doubt, that with more performances like the one against Newcastle, Shinji Kagawa, who is yet to hit top form, will have tough competition. Credit to Wazza for the beautiful performance - "more of the same please."
Nervy moments were present: the visitors came close to an equaliser late on when Cissé cleverly improvised an acrobatic move inside the box, surrounded by two players, with David de Gea beaten but the crossbar blocked his path to a sensational goal. Neither side dominated, but Newcastle seemed to have more of a cutting edge to them when the Senegalese born striker was introduced in the second half.
In the other end, Hernandéz struggled with his first-touch. One week, he has a decent first-touch; the next it can be completely abysmal. What has improved to his credit, though, is his ability to contribute more to attacks outside the box, instead of looking like an isolated figure. Welbeck played on the left wing and, for a change, did not have to endure pain, playing out of position. His touch and control were immaculate - and is making a name for himself. Once the finishing is added to his attributes, we will see a great striker.
Ryan Tunnicliffe's début, coming off the bench to replace Vermijl, earned his father £10,000. It was a good performance by all the players involved and signs that the younger generation are capable of handling physical players.