The international break came to an end, and Manchester United supporters saw the brilliant number 4 yet again on their side, as they cruised through to a 4-1 thrashing of Newcastle United. Jose Mourinho’s men are now undefeated in 38 consecutive games at Old Trafford, and are just one shy of their all-time club record.
The party could have been spoilt by Gayle’s early goal that put the home side behind, but first-half goals from Martial and Smalling put them back in control before they put the game to rest via Pogba and Lukaku in the second half.
Here are some things to take away from the Saturday night encounter:
1. Guess Who’s Back?
Cause for celebrations began for the supporters of the Mancunian side even before kick-off, as the team sheet saw the familiar names of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic make a return.
Pogba’s comeback from injury was the match-defining one, as he dominated the encounter with a goal and an assist to secure the match ball. Undeniably, it was his presence that Mourinho has missed the most, and the final scoreline was a clear indication of just that.
The swagger with which they operated at the start of the season, paused due to the Frenchman’s hamstring injury, was once more at display for Old Trafford to savor. The Newcastle defense clearly had a hard time coping with his timed dribbles and opportune shots at goal. His comeback will mean that Mourinho’s men will have no excuse to provide a lackluster display anymore.
However, the fact that he had to be subbed off still indicated that it will take a game or two before United’s record signing will prove his prowess to its fullest. We know he can score and create, but just how useful will he be in bridging the eight-point gap to Manchester City?
2. Lindelof Woes
Victor Lindelof arrived from Benfica with much hope piled on him to provide a decent defensive alternative, but all of that seems assuredly wasted after Saturday night.
In the first half, it was his ungraceful slip that ensured that Gayle was able to bury the ball into the back of the net with ease, robbing De Gea of what would otherwise have been yet another easy Old Trafford clean sheet.
This means that not a single match has gone where Lindelof has been in unquestionable form, and it does bring into major worry as to what the club will do if Phil Jones slips into yet another injury. All that money in vain?
3. Lukaku Ends Dry Spell
A dry spell several games in the making was finally brought to a resounding end by the Belgian in the 70th minute. The goal was a skillful one, with the thumping finish all but tearing the net. In fact, even apart from the goal, the match was an all-time masterclass on part of Lukaku. In the first half, he singlehandedly contributed to a majority of his side’s attempts, despite none going in.
He would have been relieved to see Martial’s header cause a change to the scoreline, and infinitely more satisfied to see his own bad spell come to an end. Minus the few games where he was shy of goals, his overall tally doesn’t seem all too bad now, and is certainly amongst the best that new signings have maintained across Europe, including that of Neymar.
However, the second fiddle he played to Ibrahimovic, functioning on the right attacking flank, was not one he was all too confident in, save for one good ball into the box. With the Swede fully fit from injury, it is likely that the duo will either play side by side in a 3-5-2 formation, or be interchanged in the normal United style itself. Regardless, it will take the pressure off his shoulders to be the Red Devils’ sole source of upfront goals for the rest of the season.
4. Martial & Rashford Can Play Together
Even before Mourinho’s reign, the two gleaming youngsters had rarely shared a pitch, and they have been the chief and most consistent substitute pair that the boss has used this season. Yet, to the surprise of the fans, both of them made the starting eleven against Newcastle.
This is more of an indication of Martial proving his worth to Mourinho than of how well the two may function in a single unit. In fact, there was visible sloppiness for a while at the start, where Martial wasn’t fully able to release himself in his usual fashion owing to Rashford’s presence.
The youth academy graduate, on the other hand, seemed to have no issue whatsoever into gelling as per the change, and delivered a performance true to his regular consistency. As a result, it was Martial that made way when Ibrahimovic had to be eventually subbed on, and with a goal being secured by the Frenchman, both were all smiles.
This could be a strong indication that Mourinho will continue with the same for several matches to come after seeing how well the tactic worked on Saturday. However, it still lacks the statistical assurance that is in place when Martial is subbed on in place of Rashford, but give it a few games and it might just better even that.
5. Teams Closing In
Pogba and Ibrahimovic are finally back, with the Frenchman eager to continue where he left off and the powerful Swede convinced that he will continue his brilliance in the upcoming games.
This certainly brings into perspective what the Red Devils must do for the rest of the season. If they are serious about wanting to claim the Premier League title, the 8-point gap they have with City can be siphoned off easily if a perfect record is maintained now onwards against both the bottom and the top half clubs.
Results in the London derby prior to the United kick-off saw Arsenal ascend along with Liverpool to 22 points, keeping Tottenham at bay from tying with United. With Chelsea at 25 and the Spurs held to 23, United are just a couple of defeats away from seeing their second place go awry.
Much could happen before the season ends, and the Premier League is notorious for just that, but for now, the Red side of Manchester is the second best in the country, following the noisy neighbors in Blue.
Written by Naveen Kelvin
A writer trying to craft the poetry within football. Purpose in life is to Make Good Art.