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article imageDiverse strikers set attacking tempo as United draw at Newcastle

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jan 12, 2016 in Sports
Stylistically, Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United has been heavily criticized for their tedious possession-based system, but a trip to Newcastle saw the Red Devils manager lean towards a pragmatic approach.
Stylistically, Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United has been heavily criticized for their tepid possession-based system, but a trip to Newcastle saw the Red Devils manager lean towards pragmatic approach.
Frankly, this was the antithesis to the lacklustre encounter many expected: Newcastle dominated possession but failed to get behind the United defence, whereas Van Gaal’s men always posed a threat on the counter-attack.
Newcastle have lacked a creative passer in midfield zones since Yohan Cabaye’s departure, and are much better attacking on the counter, which could explain why Van Gaal instructed his men to press in midfield and sit off the opposition. The hosts struggled creating chances for large portions of the first half with key wide players, Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Perez conceding possession cheaply, while the midfield trio couldn’t impose themselves in central areas.
United took the lead from a Wayne Rooney spot kick in the opening 10 minutes, but unlike Newcastle, their attacking ploy was evident. Paul Dummett rarely ventured beyond Anthony Martial who started the match on the right, but Darryl Janmaat’s adventurous positioning presented space for United to exploit.
Essentially, Cheick Tiote dropped between centre-backs Fabricio Coloccini and Chancel Mbemba, with Coloccini receiving time to play forward passes, but when Newcastle attacks foiled, United quickly surged towards the channels. Rooney’s movement, in particular, was impressive, as the United captain was involved in United’s best chances in the opening half when he drifted into space behind Darryl Janmaat.
First, Rooney charged behind Mbemba to receive a pass from Jesse Lingard, but the United captain slashed his shot wide of the far post. Then, Mbemba’s giveaway saw Herrera play in Rooney down the left channel, who subsequently bamboozled Coloccini to create Lingard’s goal.
On the opposite flank, Martial posed several problems for Dummett, but United’s main threat stemmed through Rooney diagonal runs into the left channel. More so, Steve McClaren’s reluctance to halt Janmaat’s advanced positioning was peculiar considering the Dutchman rarely threatened from right-back.
Newcastle didn’t receive opportunities to break on the counter, but the hosts eventually bypassed their issue playing through midfield. The first half hour witnessed the attack-minded Newcastle players encounter pressure in midfield zones, whereas Aleksandar Mitrovic was isolated upfront when long-balls were played in the striker’s direction.
Therefore, three key aspects illustrated the simplicity in Newcastle’s attack: Coloccini’s passing, Mitrovic’s linkup play, and Wijnaldum’s undetected runs from midfield zones.
Wijnaldum was denied by United keeper, David De Gea, earlier in the half following Mitrovic’s link up play from a throw-in, which saw Perez and the Dutch midfielder combine near the edge of the box. In the early stages of the second half, Coloccini played a stellar pass behind Ashley Young for Sissoko, but the Newcastle winger also failed to beat De Gea.
"The crowd responded magnificently, and we wanted to show everyone what we are about," McClaren told BT Sport.
"People said that United were boring and that we lack character, but we kept fighting until the end and we got a goal that feels like a winner.
From a tactical perspective the match was subdued, but both strikers epitomized their side’s attacking threat, and were involved in both goals from open play, and scored crucial penalties. Rooney’s movement into the channels was pivotal to United’s counter-attacks, while Mitrovic brought his teammates towards goal with his efficient holdup play.
Ultimately, Rooney’s powerful strike gave United the lead following a mazy run from substitute Memphis Depay, but Dummett’s last-gasp equalizer stemmed from one of many Mitrovic chest-downs. Though United’s initial plan was successful — negating Newcastle’s threat on the counter and exploiting space behind Janmaat — Van Gaal’s men appeared clueless when required to close out the match through lengthy spells of possession, while the back four performed poorly.
“The referee has not beaten our team. We have done that ourselves,” Van Gaal said.
“When we lose two points like this it is sad and it is also our own fault. But we did this by ourselves and it's not down to the opposition or the referee.
Although Newcastle came from behind to earn a valuable point, the hosts also managed the match poorly following Mitrovic’s initial equalizer, as their full-backs still pushed forward. An entertaining draw was unexpected at St. James Park considering the struggles both sides encountered in the final third recently, but the result offer evidence that either manager has rectified the issues halting their projected goals.
More about Rooney, Wayne rooney, van gaal, Newcastle, steve mcclaren
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