By David Bateman
Manchester United began their Premier League campaign in style yesterday with a comfortable 3-0 win over newly promoted Newcastle United.
35-year-old Paul Scholes had the game in the palm of his hand, spraying precision passes both far and near and dismantling the Newcastle defence. Both the first and third goals for Man United owed much to the flame-haired midfield maestro, as he first set up Dimitar Berbatov to slot home then crossed for Ryan Giggs to fellow home the final goal of the game.
Darren Fletcher scored the 2nd goal, blasting the ball into the net from close range after a trademark piercing run from Patrice Evra. The Frenchmen appears to have put the woes of his World Cup behind him, once again adding real width and penetration to the Manchester side.
Another who looked back in good form was Wayne Rooney. The England striker, much maligned for his poor showing at the World Cup, displayed all his usual poise and power with several through balls that sliced the Newcastle defence into pieces.
Manchester United couldn’t muster any chances on goal until the 30th minute, but their dominance of the game was absolute in any case. Once the chances started coming, they didn’t stop. The game may have only finished 3-0, but 6-0 would not have been a big surprise given the opportunities that went close.
Their main success came via Scholes, and his nifty one-twos. With his help, Man United performed a slight twist on the idea of a passing triangle, forming a passing square, where Scholes, Fletcher, Rooney and Berbatov engaged in clever exchanges.
Darren Fletcher looks set to continue his improvement as a player, and is becoming more like Roy Keane every day. Not only does he have the same toughness and mentality as the former Manchester United captain, he also has the eye for goal and surging runs that characterised Keane in his heyday.
Another current Red Devil could resemble a former player, if he could only improve his end product. There are many similarities between Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo- their unbelievable speed, sleight of movement, and ability to awe crowds with near impossible skills. But Nani is a conundrum: one moment mercurial, the next horrendous. If only he could become more consistent with his final ball or shooting accuracy, the Portuguese winger could be one of the world’s best.
Such high-class opposition as Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Rooney and co. was a tough wake-up call for Newcastle on their first appearance back in the top division. The Red Devils pressed their opposition high up the pitch, forcing them to play a hurried game, which resulted in many aimless long balls in the direction of Newcastle’s lone striker, Andy Carroll.
However, it could have all been so different for them. In only the 10th minute, Newcastle gained a corner. A great ball was planted straight on the forehead of striker Andy Carroll, who pushed his free header wide of the goal. Unfortunately, the glaring opportunity was very much Newcastle’s first, and last.
Despite that, they can be content with their performance in this game. Although they were outclassed, it was to be expected, and they did offer considerable hope that they could finish respectably this season, possibly even top 12.
Up front, Andy Carroll was deployed as a lone striker and performed admirably given the circumstances. He gave the Manchester defenders a tough time in the air, and will undoubtedly have some success against lesser players. Sadly, given the conservative Newcastle formation he wasn’t given much support, and possession couldn’t be retained in the final third.
The meagre support he did receive was often in the form of Jonas Gutierrez, who went on multiple impressive solo runs, only to lose the ball or find himself without support.
Newcastle are more than capable of challenging any team in the lower half of the Premier League this season, but they must be more prepared to attack, and cut out silly mistakes such as that which caused the first goal, when Nolan failed to clear the ball properly and Gutierrez opted to try and break forward from his own 18-yard line.
It was a harsh lesson for Newcastle. But when you are facing Manchester United and you are a newly promoted team, harsh lessons are to be expected. Whether Newcastle will learn from those and survive in the Premier League this time around remains to be seen, but at least there were silver linings to build on from the cloud of this defeat.