Unlikely Man Utd hero James proving his worth despite Amad arrival

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Daniel James Amad Man Utd GFX
The Wales international made it three goals in as many games for the Red Devils as he helped secure a crucial victory over Newcastle at Old Trafford

Match statistics: Manchester United 3-1 Newcastle

With Manchester United needing a hero as they struggled to break down relegation-threatened Newcastle at Old Trafford, there cannot have been many who would have predicted that Daniel James would step up to the plate and deliver the goods.

The Red Devils laboured for the best part of an hour against Steve Bruce's side, with their display the antithesis of the energetic, counterattacking performance that saw them dispatch of Real Sociedad in midweek.

Instead it was back to the sluggish tempo of the draw against West Brom seven days ago, with United again unable to break down a team who have been in freefall over recent weeks.

For the best part of an hour it seemed as if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team were again going to come up short, only for James to step up and remind those watching at home just what he is capable of.

With 57 minutes on the clock the Wales international lashed home a right-footed finish to record this third goal in as many games. He has now found the net five times in just 13 appearances for United this season, meaning he has scored more than he did in his 46 matches during the whole of 2019-20.

With the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial ahead of him in the pecking order, it is perhaps no surprise that the 23-year-old has been on the periphery for much of this season.

Solskjaer has never doubted the X-factor that James can provide, particularly with his lightening pace, but the arrival of Amad Diallo in January suggested that United were keen to upgrade their back-up options out wide.

James Manchester United 2021

The new signing from Atalanta was on the bench in the Premier League for the first time here, and as such James will have felt the importance of performing well having kept his place in the team following an eye-catching display in Turin on Thursday.

Within the first couple of minutes he embarked on a driving run down the right-hand side, beating three Newcastle defenders before eventually winning a free-kick in a sure sign that his confidence is returning following a difficult 2020.

"I think there was a moment last season I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted to," James told BT Sport post-match. "I think this season I’m just reflecting on that as much as I can and doing everything I can to reflect on my games.

"I kind of lost my way a bit and wasn’t playing the same as I was at the start of last season, so that’s why I had to look at analysis and things like that, and I’ve got the right people around me to talk me through that.

"I've been working with the coaches on the training ground to get me back to myself and I like to think that I’ve got there."

Though the former Swansea City speedster still has some improvements to make to his game - most notably his decision making in the final third which at times frustrated Bruno Fernandes - he is proving himself a potential match-winner for a team which remains defined by its individual stars, rather than the collective.

No more was that evident than during the first half here. During the opening 20 minutes, United had 72 per cent possession, but did not muster a shot on goal, with the absence of Paul Pogba through injury clear as Nemanja Matic and Fred struggled to advance the ball from central midfield.

Instead David de Gea was forced into a fine save from Joelinton, with the Magpies playing with a confidence that belied a run of just two wins in 15 games before kick-off

Solskjaer's team needed a spark, and they got it from Rashford, who twice left right-back Emil Krafth for dead before beating Karl Darlow at his near post with a powerful finish to break the deadlock.

Rashford Maguire Manchester United 2021

That United did not go into the break ahead was again down to their failure to adequately deal with crosses into their box, as for the third league game in a row they conceded after a ball was lofted into their penalty area.

This time Harry Maguire failed to properly head clear Jonjo Shelvey's deep ball, allowing Allan Saint-Maximin to smash a half-volley past De Gea - who potentially should have been more decisive in dealing with the cross himself - for the equaliser and raising more questions regarding the future of the home side's back line.

It was left to James and then Fernandes, who scored from the penalty spot after Rashford was fouled by Joe Willock, to ensure United did not drop more points following a run of just one win in five league games, but there was still plenty to concern Solskjaer and his backroom staff, who were mostly watching from home following positive coronavirus tests.

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The night did end with a home debut for a teenage United winger off the bench, though it was not Amad who was introduced, but rather 17-year-old Shola Shoretire just a couple of weeks on from signing his first professional contract with the club.

Given his talent, expect Shoretire to be permanently in the shake-up for United's wide positions in the months to come, along with the exciting Amad.

The challenge going forward for James will be to prove that he is able to provide something they cannot. Right now he could not be doing much more to further his case for inclusion.