With the points tightening around the 3rd and 4th positions on the league table, Manchester United desperately needed to claim the crucial three points in this mid-week clash with mid-table positioned Newcastle United. United have yet to hit top form and adopt a style of consistent, polished play, but still continue to earn points in the 2015 campaign for a Champions League position. The Red Devils turned in another lackluster performance, at times looking unsure of themselves and the purpose of their possession. Still, United were able to grab victory after a bit of luck and some clutch late-game heroics.
Louis Van Gaal chose a starting lineup featuring mainstay goalkeeper David De Gea, Antonio Valencia at right back, Chris Smalling at center back, Jonny Evans, his partner at the back, Marcos Rojo at left back, Daley Blind and Ander Herrera at central defensive midfield, Ángel Di María at right midfielder, Marouane Fellaini at central attacking midfield, Ashley Young at left midfielder, and Wayne Rooney at lone striker.
Manchester dominated possession early and all throughout the match, but Newcastle still presented a threat to David De Gea. Chris Smalling got away with a mistimed tackle on Newcastle forward Emmanuel Riviere early in the match in the 18-yard box that should have been a penalty. Rooney also missed a wide-open chance on net. After receiving a chip pass from Ashley Young over the top of the defense, Rooney controlled the ball down and made his turn towards goal, but dragged his shot well wide of the goal with little pace. A few minutes later in the first half, another opportunity presented itself Manchester United when Fabricio Coloccini stumbled and fell leaving Ángel Di María the ball and plenty of space to play it into Wayne Rooney. Rooney's controlling touch failed him, however, playing it away from the defender, but right into the path of the goalkeeper.
Di María, despite not playing his best football, played an integral role in some of United's movements on net. Before halftime, he played Valencia a through ball behind the Newcastle defense. Valencia crossed the ball back post to Fellaini, whose header chance back across frame lacked the pace to beat Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul. The first half ended 0-0 with Newcastle never placing a shot on target.
Early in the second half, Newcastle created a golden chance for their frontman Emmanuel Riviere. He failed to produce the contact necessary to beat David De Gea and find the net, instead just earning a corner kick.
Fellaini earned another chance to put United on the front foot, but Tim Krul proved more than up to the task, stopping not only Fellaini's chance, but also a rebound opportunity that fell to Ashley Young. Ángel Di María provided some attacking inspiration in the second half, nearly producing two chances for Wayne Rooney, one offside and another that wasn't accurate enough. Ultimately, Di María's contribution to the match was not enough, and Van Gaal replaced him with Adnan Januzaj in the 59th minute.
Januzaj made himself a nuisance for the Newcastle defense, especially substituted left back Jonás Gutiérrez. Januzaj dribbled Gutiérrez on the right touchline and drew him into a sliding tackle, which brought down the United winger and brought forth a yellow card. Manchester settled into determined possession for most of the second half, pinning Newcastle in their defensive third. Juan Mata was given an appearance, substituted on the field for Marouane Fellaini in the 82nd minute. In the 89th minute, Van Gaal substituted Michael Carrick for Marcos Rojo, most likely to protect the Argentine on a yellow card from suspension, which would force him to miss their match on Monday against Arsenal.
Shortly after, from a seemingly harmless thrown-in, United would receive their breakthrough opportunity. The ball was thrown-in long to Rooney, who pursued it in spite of insurmountable odds. Rooney's dogged pursuit forced an awkward 6-yard back pass to Martin Krul, who attempted a pass out of the box, which was intercepted by Ashley Young. He gathered the interception quickly, looked up and passed the ball into the net. Manchester 1, Newcastle 0. De Gea revealed even more star quality with a diving save on Papiss Cisse's header chance in the fading embers of the match to guarantee the victory.
United snatched the three points again this week, but failed to do so in a comfortable, convincing manner. Despite the unpolished style of play, United continue to get results, but still questions remain unanswered. Can Di María return to form ahead of their next clashes with top-level BPL clubs, including Tottenham, Liverpool, and back-to-back weeks in April versus Manchester City and Chelsea? Angel Di Maria continued to resemble a shade of the star quality he presented at Real Madrid and a selection in the upcoming FA cup match would seem unlikely. Will Radamel Falcao earn a transfer deal this year? Falcao failed to earn an appearance in a match that United desperately needed a scorer. No decision has been made on his loan transfer deal yet, but it becomes an easy question to answer when he cannot earn a spot in the side to prove his worth.
Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham Spurs won this week, which makes things extremely difficult for United. Despite, the success of these competing teams, United remain in 4th, just 1 point shy of Arsenal and 2 points ahead of Liverpool. Louis Van Gaal will be conscious of their tough upcoming schedule. Apart from their league campaign, United must focus ahead of their FA Cup match against Arsenal on Monday, March 9th. The winner of the match will most likely become the favorite to win the competition with only Liverpool and Aston Villa the only remaining English Premier League teams in the tournament. Following this important match, United must concentrate their attention on a match with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, March 15th. The FA Cup match against Arsenal will be aired on Fox Sports One at 3:30pm.
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