Manchester United 3 Newcastle 1: Alan Pardew left the poorer by year of upheaval that began with Yohan Cabaye exit

A year is a long time in football - but this feels like a different era

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Last December David Moyes was the manager of Manchester United. Last December Yohan Cabaye was the goalscoring leader of Newcastle United. Last December Newcastle won 1-0 at Old Trafford. On Boxing Day, last December felt a different era.

A year is a long time in football, of course, but normal service has been restored. These two northern Uniteds have resumed the roles allotted them.

Then Newcastle were upstart victors, winning a league game at Old Trafford for the first time in 41 years.

Then the hosts were victims who had lost at home to Everton three days earlier – for the first time in 21 years. Moyes was making the wrong kind of history.

But as of the 36th minute, when Wayne Rooney guided in the second, Newcastle’s record was being rewritten to one league win at Old Trafford in 42 years. Manchester United were not great, but there was no way Newcastle were coming back from 2-0 down.

Such predictability is an achievement of sorts. United have now won seven of their last eight matches and, while it would be an exaggeration to say they are electrifying supporters with that run, there is something coming together under Louis van Gaal.

For all the tactical shrewdness associated with Van Gaal, we could label that spirit, or esteem. That decisive second goal originated not with some tactic, but from the determination of Radamel Falcao to win a tackle against Ayoze Perez. From that desire the ball arrived at the feet of Juan Mata, who teed up Rooney. Newcastle were split apart.

There was further hard work from Falcao at both ends of the pitch. He carried himself like a winner, but one prepared to fight. Cabaye had that for Newcastle. It is a mindset, a mindset of superior and inferior which, it could be said, neither Moyes nor Cabaye accepted and in that lay their weakness and strength.

It is a difference in attitude that manifests itself on the pitch. Were Moyes still here, United might not have that reinvigorated sense of themselves they appear to possess under Van Gaal; had Cabaye been here, Newcastle might not have lost.

Each club is a consequence of its ownership and strategy. Old Trafford has reacted to the blip – they hope – of last season with ambitious and expensive recruitment. Falcao’s abilities do not come cheap.

Ultimately, it may not work. There was enough defensive uncertainty from the likes of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans to make even a diehard Red pause before affirming Van Gaal’s late 2014 version of United can compete with the best in England, never mind in Europe. But Old Trafford has made a statement of intent.

Admittedly, Van Gaal’s squad has been injury-hit, but then so has Newcastle’s. Their manager, Alan Pardew, spoke afterwards of missing nine senior players. But none is missed like Cabaye. Newcastle’s season collapsed after his sale to Paris Saint-Germain in January and there was no Loïc Rémy or Mathieu Debuchy either yesterday. Both played last December. This also amounts to a statement.

Yohan Cabaye left Newcastle for Paris Saint-Germain in January

Instead of Rémy, Pardew had Perez, a 21 year-old signed from Tenerife in Spain’s Segunda Division.

With Papiss Cissé left on the bench, there was a full Premier League debut for Adam Armstrong, one of five locals in the Newcastle starting XI. Unfortunately, it was the teenager’s blocked shot that led to Rooney’s opener, but Armstrong was sprightly and skilful, as was Perez. They were not the problem and Pardew praised them. “We need to defend better than we did today,” he said. “We were a little bit loose.”

However, the sensitive fact for Pardew is that Newcastle have now lost four consecutive matches, four in 13 days. They have scored twice in those four defeats, one of which was in the League Cup at Tottenham Hotspur and one of which was at home to neighbours Sunderland.

While there was no mass dissent from the travelling thousands, this run has taken Pardew back to the land of volatility he frequently inhabits on Tyneside. Suddenly home games against Everton and Burnley have assumed an importance they did not hold even a fortnight ago.

“We need to get four points from those two games to stabilise our position,” he said. “And maybe in January we need to get a body on board, it’s important we get another striker.”

Reflecting on 2014 as a whole, Pardew did not camouflage some serious issues. “It’s been a difficult year,” he said, “and two good results [against Everton and Burnley] won’t cloud that. We were well short in the last window and we didn’t replace Cabaye.”

It was the only time Yohan Cabaye was mentioned yesterday, but, like David Moyes for other reasons, he has not been forgotten.