Manchester United extended its unbeaten December streak at Old Trafford to six matches after a resounding 4-1 win over Newcastle United. The United frontline of Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford all delivered goals to give the Reds revenge over the Magpies who won the reverse fixture back in October.
The first half had all the makings of another signature Manchester United performance. By the 16th minute, Matty Longstaff scored the opening goal for the second straight fixture to take a lead over the Reds, and I found myself more concerned with the hot honey sausage pizza that I had just taken out of the oven. New sarcastic tweets popped into my head with each gliding slice of my new pizza cutter. I was ready to cook the lack of creativity from the Reds as thoroughly as my oven cooked the sourdough crust.
Instead, mercifully, the man who came from France, Martial, found the equalizer eight minutes later. Rashford and Luke Shaw passed the ball up and down the left wing before Shaw flew through three defenders to find Andreas Pereira in the box. Pereira laid the ball back to a charging Martial who hit a shot with enough forced to clang off the keeper’s hands and into the net to level the scoreline.
United supporters wouldn’t wait much longer for the go-ahead goal as everyone’s favorite teenager, Greenwood, delivered the goods with a trademark sublime finish. A baffling giveaway in Newcastle’s defensive half from an unsure defender found Greenwood with the ball and a lot of room to run. He took two touches to advance his position, and, with the Newcastle defense inexplicably deciding not to close in on the in-form forward, Greenwood blasted a shot right over the keeper and it clanged off the crossbar and into the goal — an absolute beaut that would mark his fourth goal in five appearances.
All hope of a Newcastle comeback were dashed in the 41st minute. Scott McTominay — despite playing on a yellow card — threw his weight around in the midfield to dispossess a Newcastle player. Fred crashed in to recover the ball and played it off to Pereira who drifted towards the right wing. The Brazilian found a wide-open Aaron Wan-Bissaka who played a cross from the outside of the box. Rashford rose up over his defender at the far post and headed the ball in to take a commanding lead.
Martial dropped the hammer on the Magpies early in the second half. A poor pass in the Newcastle defensive end unlocked the United attacker. Martial raced towards the charging Newcastle keeper and flicked the ball over, and it lazily rolled into the goal to complete his brace.
With the game completely out of reach for Steve Bruce’s side, United would dominate the ball as it searched for a fifth goal. Martial nearly completed a hattrick but was denied by the inside of the right post. Paul Pogba, who was substituted into the match at the start of the second half, had a couple moments that nearly tallied additional goals; it was good to see the embattled talisman put in a second great appearance since coming back from injury. Of course, now United fans will wonder if they watched Pogba’s final appearance at Old Trafford with the January transfer window looming large.
The announced lineup by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appeared to be a strong one with the glaring omissions of Pogba and Brandon Williams the most vexing. Pogba proved over the weekend at Watford, that, even with only 30 minutes to work, he can really change a match. Williams, of course, appears to be in purgatory following the draw against Aston Villa despite Shaw not looking in game shape — weeks since his return to the lineup. Solskjaer’s decision for today’s starting lineup may be justified if the team sheet remains fluid during the holidays with games approaching thick and fast.
Now, in the midst of the unrelenting winter fixture list, United must travel to Turf Moor to face their bogey team, Burnley on Saturday, Dec. 28. The Reds will look to their in-form forwards and, hopefully, a starting Pogba to unlock Sean Dyche’s side. Certainly, Rashford will be raring to increase his goal tally after scoring his 11th league goal to rank joint third in the Golden Boot race.