Newcastle United's first win against Manchester United in ten years was a classic case of promptness trumping ponderousness.
As the gales bellowed, so Manchester United galled their traveling supporters, rubbing shoulders with the gods inside the Sport Direct Arena. Overawed and intimidated, this United side’s brittleness was exposed with relish by a predatory Newcastle United who tirelessly hunted for their prized scalp.
Bereft of fight, imagination and promptness, it was the first time the Red Devils had conceded three goals in back-to-back league games since February 2004, when the forecast was equally gloomy.
Then, Rio Ferdinand had recently limped off at Molineux to commence his eight-month ban for a missed drug’s test, which effectively ended United’s title bid. Now, Nemanja Vidic is out for the season and the repercussions are as bruising as the going over Demba Ba gave a porous defence last night.
Ferdinand and Phil Jones, two excellent footballers, nevertheless offer cause for consternation when paired together as centre-backs. In their four games as partners, United have conceded nine goals and it is difficult to recall the much-lauded Jones playing well at the back-spine of the team. A comfortable performance against a smarting Tottenham in August only stands out, and his ineptitude yesterday evening left some hankering for Jonny Evans, let alone Vidic.
Even though the Magpies’ play was direct with the impetus on outmuscling their meek visitors, it was ironic that Ba and Yohan Cabaye’s goals were sensational strikes. The football may not be at the standard that it was during Kevin Keegan’s heyday, but the good times are rolling on the Tyne.
Injuries have decimated Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad and Jones starting alongside Ferdinand was unavoidable, but it was also an impossible task to shield them with this United midfield. Michael Carrick has enjoyed a rich vein of form recently, but admittedly against innocuous opponents. So as soon as he and Ryan Giggs were faced with stern counterparts, they looked hapless.
Stony-faced whilst sat on the bench, Ferguson was inanimate and bore a look of resignation. Shouting is often mistaken for inspiring, but there was no cajoling when it was undeniably warranted.
Nominating midfielders who would improve United is akin to listing pupils who could beat up the class whipping boy.
His expression is the closest the club’s supporters will get to an admission that this squad is insufficient, what with his press conferences peppered with Glazer-toeing clichés. How maddening it is for supporters – and surely him – that Cabaye and Cheik Tioté, who were bought for less than £10m combined by their hosts, would walk into this team.
His ‘no value’ protestations are as pathetic as he is petulant, and cruelly, nominating midfielders who would improve United is akin to listing pupils who could beat up the class whipping boy.
Further ahead, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney, two supremely gifted footballers, also failed to click, as predicted. Whenever both start, it is essential that their roles are specified (ie. one’s a striker, one plays ‘in the hole’ – not difficult), yet again they discombobulated one another, rendering the entire team impotent.
Rooney however appeared as though he couldn’t click with a mouse. Offering a disgraceful example of a professional footballer, he deserves such scathing flak because of his hypocrisy over the club’s direction. If he really cared about the club’s inferiority, he shouldn’t have budged and accepted his £250,000 per week pay packet 15 months ago. Alas avarice outweighs ambition.
With the spine in tatters, the wings weren’t about to fly in to United’s rescue when they’re as bipolar as Charlie Sheen (they ain’t ‘bi-winning’). Patrice Evra at least showed some gumption, but nowhere near enough of the players can scheme and scrap for the cause.
The four-game winning-streak in December was a reminder of how irresistible United can be when playing to their potential, yet the renaissance was always frivolous given the opposition. Injuries have predictably accounted for Ferguson’s latest mini-crisis (his best midfielder, Tom Cleverley, is still unavailable) but it is flattering that they are so close to Manchester City.
Even Chelsea’s clutter of alpha male egomaniacs is arguably superior than United’s. Fortunately, for Ferguson, they and City are liable to implode, which would allow United’s ‘experience’ and ‘spirit’ to capitalise. But these are unacceptable substitutes for quality, which is severely lacking at Old Trafford when everyone is fit.
Ferdinand tweeted on Tuesday night ‘Just boarded the flight to Newcastle.....me carrick + @WayneRooney are pooing our pants...90+mph winds...nervous wrecks! #turbulence.’ An erudite prediction. For judging by the gormless display United s**t themselves and the future looks rocky.
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