After a devastating 3-0 loss to Newcastle United, Manchester United has suffered back-to-back defeats in the Barclays Premier League for the first time since March 2011 and now trails league leader Manchester City by three points at the top of the Premier League table.
Newcastle was better than the visitors in every department of the game. They controlled the midfield superbly, patrolled the defence with aplomb and when scoring opportunities came, they didn’t waste their chances.
United’s frailties were once again exposed and it may what prompt Sir Alex Ferguson to make moves in the January window for defensive cover. There are problems on so many fronts – the vulnerability at the back, toothless midfield, goalkeeper conundrum, striker selection and much more. Newcastle was resolute and nonchalant at the back (apart from Danny Simpson’s goal line clearance, the defense was not stretched and tested) and showed great qualities when needed.
1) Spot on, Alan Pardew: Alan Pardew was spot on with his tactics yet again. His message was simple — gain the upper hand in the middle. This was helped by the industry and class of Tiote and Cabaye, who outclassed their counterparts with great élan. Also, they narrowed the pitch making life difficult for Nani and Valencia to make considerable inroads.
Ameobi after the match said “We saw what Blackburn did against Manchester United a few days ago, so one of our main tactics was to get in behind them and squeeze them up the pitch and it has worked.” Further, the tactics of testing the United defenders with long balls worked for Pardew. The physical presence of Shola Ameobi created space for Demba Ba to exploit. In the build up to the first goal, Tim Krul’s long ball was superbly flicked on by Ameobi into the direction of Demba Ba. The Senegal international volleyed the ball home in stunning fashion. Also in the buildup to the second goal, Ameobi created space for Ba by dragging the defender with him. Jones fouled the Senegal striker, conceding a free kick 25-yards out. We all know the outcome. Though you might say those two were outstanding goals and sometimes you can’t do anything if that happens.
2) Lack of communication at the back: Phil Jones has scored three goals for United, two of which have found his own net. Jones is a hot prospect and he might go on to be the best defender in England. But, he looks better at right back or central midfield than at the heart of defense. The problem he faces is communication with the goalkeeper and taking decisions as well. He hardly has any understanding with De Gea. And tonight we saw there were more communication gaps as well, this time with Anders Lindegaard. He was caught in two minds as to whether to deal with the long ball from Krul or let it bounce through to Lindegaard. In the end messed up, big time. He was all over the place defensively. Still, he will learn. He’s an outstanding talent.
3) Need to buy a central midfielder: Ferguson needs to buy a central midfielder, even if Tom Cleverley gets fit in coming days. This current crop is simply not good enough. Darren Fletcher is a long term absentee and the midfield is left with Carrick, Anderson and makeshift yet versatile veteran Ryan Giggs to control. The FACT that Rooney has to get down deep to control the midfield is a pathetic sight. In fact they need two types of midfielders – creative and industrious. How about Cabaye & Tiote?
4) What has happened to United’s strikers? Injuries to strikers at different points of the season have harmed the strike force of Manchester United. Rooney has to come deep to influence the game from behind. Hernandez and Welbeck haven’t been firing on all cylinders and it is left to Berbatov to handle the striker department — the same Berbatov who was been struggling to get a game in the early half of the season.
5) Loss of Demba Ba: Newcastle will be losing Demba Ba for the next one month due to his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations. It is a big blow to the Magpies but they have to cope with it. Only van Persie has scored more goals than the Senegalese international in the past 12 months. Pardew is left with an onerous task of getting the best out of his backup strikers. Maybe he could change the style of Newcastle’s game play?
Today I leave you with two questions. For the Newcastle fans, where will Newcastle finish at the end of the season? For the United fans, please shed light on what buys you think are needed in the January transfer window.
Follow Saikat Mandal on Twitter @Saikat_SAnchor