Manchester United’s revival rolls on as Solskjaer’s super subs prove the difference against Newcastle
ST JAMES' PARK, NEWCASTLE — And so the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer red revival rolls on. Four games, four wins and for the first time, a clean sheet to go with it. Solskjaer said beforehand that he rarely enjoyed going to Tyneside but he was punching the air here when Marcus Rashford scored the visitors’ second.
That was with 10 minutes left and drained some red nerves from the remainder. Sixteen minutes earlier Rashford’s free-kick had been dropped by Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka allowing Romelu Lukaku to score with his first touch after leaving the bench.
Some might say it was an inspired Solskjaer substitution; others will say, correctly, that it was a goalkeeping error.
Read more: Newcastle vs Manchester United player ratings: Marcus Rashford stars again
But it was the breakthrough just when Newcastle had been at their most threatening following Jonjo Shelvey’s arrival. That it turned into another home defeat infuriated Rafa Benitez.
It could have been worse, Paul Pogba missing a great chance in injury time, but the Old Trafford statistics types will feel able to compare Solskjaer’s start to Matt Busby’s nonetheless.
More relevant, on a night when Chelsea drew is that Manchester United are now six points off Jose Mourinho’s designated target of fourth place. It was 11 when he departed.
Rafa's defensive set-up
Newcastle’s home record has been a drag on progress. On four occasions this season a conservative tactical away point gained has been followed by a demoralising home defeat. There had been just two home wins and seven losses. Only Huddersfield have a worse record. And Newcastle drew 1-1 at Watford on Saturday.
It was no surprise therefore to see the home side line up with three centre-halves and two wide men – DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Ritchie – either side. Effectively a back five.
The five in front were tasked with scoring a goal – something Newcastle had done only seven times at St. James’. As Benitez would no doubt point out, the cost of those five was around half of what Manchester United paid for Victor Lindelof.
They kept Lindelof and Phil Jones occupied though, during an eventful if goalless first half, during which Christian Atsu delivered some of his most lively football at Newcastle. With a bit more composure, he could have scored at least once.
David De Gea made one save while Atsu pulled another left-foot effort across the six-yard box.
In between those shots, Ayoze Perez robbed Jones and set up Rondon but the big striker looked bulky as he took his time shoot and Jones recovered to clear.
That was probably Solksjaer’s greatest concern at half-time. Going forward the visitors had periods of flow and movement and Martin Dubravka made decent interventions to halt Marcus Rashford.
On the first occasion it was from a dipping free-kick nine minutes in; 15 minutes later Rashford provoked some panic between Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar and Dubravka was quick off his line.
But considering how Newcastle were prepared to sit back at times, Man Utd will have felt they could have done more. Pogba was influential but in a sporadic kind of way, as was Anthony Martial.
Man Utd nerves turn to delight
Ten minutes into the second half, Michael Carrick was the visiting coach standing on the touchline noting that there had been an increase in St. James’ noise and intensity.
This co-incided with Shelvey’s enforced introduction for the injured Mo Diame.
Shelvey remains Newcastle’s most creative player. Given how difficult Benitez’s team finds breaking down the opposition here, it is a puzzle as to why the England midfielder does not always start.
Within five minutes Shelvey had played three precise forward passes. One of them – to Perez – was superb and had the Spaniard free in the area. Perez’s first touch, however, reduced his options and the chance vanished.
It was costly. Having look at his bench, Solskjaer called forth Luakau and Sanchez. Off went Juan Mata and Martial.
As they trotted off, Rashford lined up a free-kick from about 30 yards. He struck it with the same amount of whip and dip as in the first-half. Then Dubravka had fumbled it and once again he spilled the shot. It was straight at him.
Unfortunately for Dubravka, Lukaku had come on at full throttle and was there before everyone else to tap the ball in.
It was the first of two major moments from Lukaku. The next came 16 minutes later when he and Rashford broke away from inside their own half as Newcastle pressed.
Sanchez joined them and after he took a pass from Lukaku, Sanchez slipped it to Rashford. He showed calm to slide in the second. It was done.
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