By Rasheed Abu Bakar
A new look Manchester United swept past Newcastle United in what was their most convincing performance so far this season. Banishing tradition, manager Sir Alex Ferguson got rid of his wide men for a more Christmas tree formation which suffocated the midfield.
With Robin Van Persie upfront, United started with Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick in midfield, much to the surprise of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew.
For the first 25 minutes, De Gea was merely a passenger and barely had a touch of the ball. United dictated the tempo of the game and kept the ball in the Newcastle half. Thankfully and strangely, United’s defenders capitalized on the possession with headed goals from corners supplied ironically from United’s strikers, Van Persie and Rooney.
When the teams were announced before kickoff, I was prepared for a gutsy draw or even a United loss. I have supported United all my life and I’ve been accustomed to watching their midfielders spread the ball wide for wingers to beat their man and cross the ball into the box so, last night’s Christmas tree formation was very odd.
Welbeck and Van Persie took turns to play the lone striker while fit again Rooney, Carrick, Kagawa and Cleverley pulled the strings in midfield. Dare I say, there was abit of tiki taka football in the first half. The quick one touch passing between the midfield quartets meant United kept Newcastle midfielders on their heels and got them to commit fouls.
Rooney was instrumental in keeping it all together and we saw another side of him last night. The striker, cum midfielder now, is giving Ferguson even more options with his vision from midfield. As a striker playing in midfield, Rooney knows where to place the ball for United’s front men and the more he plays alongside Van Persie or just behind the Dutchman, the better the understanding between them.
This could be something Ferguson uses in difficult games against City, Chelsea and Arsenal. If I have it my way, I’d put the burly striker in heels and cement him in the middle of the park. We’ll never have to worry about the likes of Yaya Toure or Moussa Dembele again.
Whether he meant it or not, Cleverley’s 71st min curler was a beauty and it capped of a very impressive performance from the 23 year old. He was in the thick of it throughout the game and was very calm on the ball. He could be the closest we have to Paul Scholes now. It’s no more early days for the midfielder, all he needs is to play regularly and United might finally have that creativity needed when ageing Paul Scholes finally calls it a day.
Much to my delight, the back four, protected by Carrick, was brilliant in foiling wave and wave of Newcastle attack in the second half. Ferdinand and Evans kept Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse at bay and Patrice Evra had one of his most impressive shifts at United’s left back.
His frequent marauding runs on the left flank stretched the Newcastle defence and provided width for United moving forward. Brazilian right back Rafael was toe to toe with Hatem Ben Arfa throughout the game and made sure the French international could not impose himself.
Whether this ‘diamond formation’ that Ferguson tried against Newcastle will be a norm moving forward, it certainly made United play to their strengths. Everything fell into place and for once this season, United played very well and looked every bit ready to fight for the title. I might finally agree with the ladies, Diamonds could be...for forever.