Ten Hag, 10 defeats. Manchester United added to their litany of sorry statistics by moving into double figures for losses in a season as they were leapfrogged by Newcastle United. The league table suggests the balance of power between them has shifted, but Erik ten Hag’s team were also outrun, overwhelmed and overpowered by a side without the luxury of substitutes they could trust.
Not for the first time, Manchester United were wretched but Newcastle’s relentlessness felt remarkable, their response to the anguish of Paris Saint-Germain’s controversial 98th-minute equaliser immaculate. Their reward came in the form of a close-range finish from Anthony Gordon and another notable scalp: seven days after Chelsea were demolished, Manchester United were buffeted into defeat.
For Ten Hag, it may have felt grimly familiar. Eighteen months into his reign, he is yet to record a win on the road in the Premier League against any of the eight best sides. His side’s preparations were disrupted, being unable to fly and having to brave the roads. And yet the problems with the coach were not confined to the vehicle. Manchester United looked disjointed against Newcastle, the well-trained team who were furnished with motivation and a strategy.
They added to their formidable home record; in two years under Eddie Howe, only Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal have won a league match at St James’ Park. Manchester United are not in their class and, since the Carabao Cup final, have now lost three successive games to Newcastle, underperforming in each.
This ought to have been a fine time to face Newcastle, minus 10 players in the sub-zero temperatures. But the last men standing were the last men running, the 11 who completed the game in Paris pressed into service again. They nevertheless tore into the other United, playing at a ferocious pace.
There were outstanding performances across the pitch. For Lewis Miley, a breakthrough week brought the sound of St James’ Park chorusing his name for swathes of the game. Alongside him, Joelinton was forceful while Bruno Guimaraes was the game’s classiest player. Tino Livramento may be a makeshift left-back but he was a terrific one, powering up the flank. On the other side, the boyhood Manchester United fan Kieran Trippier curled a free kick against the underside of the bar – a stationary Andre Onana watching it – and set up the winner.
It was a classic Newcastle goal; Guimaraes fed the overlapping Trippier outside him and he centred for Gordon to finish at the far post. It was a tap-in, but there was a typical element. After scoring against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, Gordon is becoming the scourge of the established order. His fearlessness means he epitomises Newcastle. Last week, Reece James was sent off for fouling Gordon when he could not contain him; seven days on, Harry Maguire was cautioned for a clumsy foul on the Liverpudlian.
How Manchester United could have done with such verve in their own forward line. Instead, Anthony Martial was an exercise in anonymity. Marcus Rashford had a negligible impact. They departed together in a double substitution. Meanwhile, Alejandro Garnacho, looking for an early goal in a third successive game, was denied by Nick Pope, but it was an isolated attack. United had only two first-half shots, their fewest in a Premier League game for 20 months. It took them until the final few minutes to muster another effort of note, a volley from the substitute Sergio Reguilon; Fabian Schar flung himself into its path. A clearly-offside Maguire turned in an Antony shot, though it was chalked off.
It went past Martin Dubravka, introduced when Newcastle were belatedly forced into a change, just as it seemed their valiant starters would all complete another game. Pope went off, a worrying-looking shoulder problem meaning he joins the lengthy injury list.
More of the focus had been on the visitors’ goal. Onana had shown his agility to dive to his right and block Miguel Almiron’s low shot. Yet he had also lacked conviction, flapping at a corner, suffering from a breakdown in communications with Diogo Dalot and being mocked by the Newcastle crowd.
In front of him, Luke Shaw played as a centre-back, in another snub to Raphael Varane. If Ten Hag thought the left-footer could help his side in the build-up, there were times when they had too little of the ball for it to make much of a difference. But whereas Howe had no options, Ten Hag made four changes. With only Bruno Fernandes playing well, his side got worse, lacking the threat they showed against Istanbul, feeling fortunate to be level at half-time.
By the final whistle, it felt still stranger that they had arrived as the division’s form team; on paper, anyway. They had won five of their previous six league games. Yet, they have tended to lose to top-half and top teams and, even when severely depleted, Newcastle are a very fine side.
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