Manchester United’s slide towards the Premier League relegation zone continued on Sunday, as they went down 1-0 to Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. It was a performance every bit as toothless as anything we’ve seen this season, and the pressure continues to mount on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær. United’s problems, of course, run much deeper than him.
United’s first half performance was as poor as might have been predicted. Despite seeing plenty of the ball, the visitors struggled to break through Newcastle’s defensive ranks, and created almost nothing from open play. Their only clear-cut chance came at the end of the opening period, when Harry Maguire slipped free of Fabian Schär to glance an excellent Ashley Young corner wide.
At the other end, the Magpies looked more threatening, if not by much. A volley from Matty Longstaff clipped the crossbar just short of the half-hour, minutes before a Schär header looped wide of David de Gea’s far post. Arguably the hosts’ best chance came five minutes before the break, when Miguel Almirón slipped behind United’s defence to meet Sean Longstaff’s excellent ball over the top. Fortunately for the visitors, the Paraguayan hesitated, and Maguire was able to scramble back to prevent him scoring his first Newcastle goal.
The second half brought little in the way of initial improvement, but United did manage to muster a chance just short of the hour. A deep Andreas Pereira cross sliced straight through the Newcastle defence, but curled agonisingly in front of the arriving Daniel James. The hosts, meanwhile, had a new threat in the unorthodox form of Andy Carroll, and the big striker immediately caused a scare when he dived to head a DeAndre Yedlin cross wide.
The game seemed to be opening up, and only a last-ditch intervention from Schär prevented Marcus Rashford from poking a James cross home with 20 minutes remaining. It proved to be a crucial tackle, as the Magpies’ counter on the resulting corner culminated in Jetro Willems laying the ball off for an onrushing Matty Longstaff, whose low drive from the edge of the area beat de Gea and rippled the back of the net. United were behind with only a few minutes left.
Newcastle immediately retreated into a hyper-defensive shape, packing every player behind the ball. It was a strategy vindicated by United’s astounding lack of attacking quality: the introductions of Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong in place of Juan Mata and Ashley Young did not strike fear into the heart of the home crowd. With little fuss, the Magpies absorbed United’s pressure, and held on for only their second win of the season. That, by the way, is exactly as many as United have won.