NEWCASTLE UNITED 1, MANCHESTER UNITED 1
Substitute Edinson Cavani rescued an undeserved point for lack-lustre Manchester United as all the failings of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure resurfaced at bottom-three side Newcastle United.
It was a desperately poor performance from the Reds who would have left St James’ Park empty handed but for an inspired goalkeeping display from David De Gea.
And it was a display which will have provided interim manager Ralph Rangnick with plenty of food for thought, bearing in mind the opposition have won only once in their first 19 league matches.
Though Rangnick remains unbeaten from his four matches – two victories and two draws – the calibre of the opposition has not seen United play a top side – Crystal Palace, Norwich and Newcastle in the league and Young Boys in the Champions League.
Tougher tests lie ahead, but United will have to up the ante by some distance if they are to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.
United, playing their first match for 16 days, had no answer to Frenchman Allan Saint-Maximin who scored a scintillating goal for the Magpies and tore the United defence to shreds.Embed from Getty Images
Rangnick pulled no punches with his assessment of the Reds’ display: “I didn’t like the performance at all. Today we didn’t control the game apart from a few moments. It’s all about energy, physicality and who wins the second balls. In all those areas we weren’t at our best. The good thing is we got a point, but the performance needs to be better.
“You have to be ready and able to win those direct duels and this was not that often the case. When we were in possession, we had too many giveaways and even with the goal, that doesn’t make things easy.
“Today was not a question of body language, it was a question of body physicality. If you want to be competitive here, you have to get physical, and this was not the case in many parts of the game.
“Our biggest problem was the mistakes we made. Even when we scored the equaliser, we were not really controlling the game and taking the right decisions.
“We were one goal behind, and we needed to take more risks. In some situations, including the goal, we were good and with Edinson we had another striker who was dangerous.
“Today it was not a question of formation – it was a question of how aggressive we were.
“In three days we have the next game. We can do better but we have to do it. We shouldn’t look for excuses – we need to be better and get more physical. I was not happy with our performance with the ball or when we had to press. What kind of energy mode do we play with the ball and without the ball?”
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe said: “We are very disappointed [not to win]. We deserved to win. The lads executed the game plan brilliantly.
“We had to be very good defensively in midfield. I thought we were very good and didn’t deserve to concede. How David de Gea saved from Miguel Almiron at the end, I don’t know. I thought it was in. Hopefully we’ve seen the beginning of a new team and how we want to play.
“We want more control in games. At the moment we have to take small steps to build to be the team we want to be. We have very good transition players, quick players. We really hurt Man Utd on transitions today. But for a bit more luck we could have won the game.”
United made two changes from their last match, the 1-0 win at Norwich as Raphael Varane returned after almost two months out through injury to partner Harry Maguire in the centre of defence. Victor Lindelof was the man replaced as he was ruled out after testing positive for Covid-19.
In attack, Mason Greenwood started, with Jadon Sancho dropping to the bench.
There were six changes for Newcastlefrom the side that lost 4-1 at home to Manchester City.
Three were in defence with Javier Manquillo, Emil Krafth and Fabian Schar coming in – the first two having recovered from recent illness. Jacob Murphy, Matt Ritchie and Ciaran Clark dropped out of the starting line-up.
Saint-Maximin returned, taking the place of Miguel Almiron.
In midfield, Jonjo Shelvey and Sean Longstaff started in the centre, with Isaac Hayden suspended and Joe Willock absent from the matchday squad.
Eddie Howe named just eight substitutes, which included two goalkeepers and 19-year-old midfielder Joe White.
United enjoyed 73 per cent possession in the opening exchanges, but it was Newcastle who snatched a seventh minute lead through Saint-Maximin’s fourth goal of the season.
And it was a typical solo effort from the flamboyant Frenchman as he cut in from the left and from the edge of the box bent a terrific shot to the left of De Gea. The move began after Varane lost possession to Sean Longstaff.
It meant Rangnick was unable to create a piece of club history as no new manager has kept clean sheets in his first three league matches.
Newcastle, with confidence soaring, nearly added a second goal when Joelinton sent a 25-yard effort flashing past the upright.
The hosts made a break with Jonjo Shelvey bursting from his own half before unleashing a 25-yard missile while De Gea fisted to safety.
Newcastle thought they had scored a second seven minutes before the break when magic from Saint-Maximin released Callum Wilson who slotted the ball low past De Gea but he had strayed offside.
Howe’s side was dealt a blow in stoppage time when Wilson limped off with what appeared a calf injury as he was replaced by Jacob Murphy.
United, completely outplayed in the opening period, made two changes at the restart as Fred and Mason Greenwood made way for Sancho and Edinson Cavani.
It failed to bring about an immediate improvement in fortunes as Newcastle would have doubled their advantage but for a brilliant reflex save low down by De Gea to keep out an effort from Saint-Maximin.
United finally forced a save from home goalkeeper Martin Dubravka who turned over a 30-yard drive from Marcus Rashford.
That was followed by Cristiano Ronaldo, failing to impress on his 1,100th career appearance, volleying wide and Cavani also firing off target as United finally displayed a flicker of form.
Newcastle had another gilt-edged chance to double their lead when Joelinton broke and released Ryan Fraser whose angled shot was beaten away by De Gea who also had to make a smart stop low to his left to turn away from Saint-Maximin while Murphy’s effort flashed just past the upright.
Then out of nothing, United equalised with 20 minutes left through Cavani’s third goal of the season.
Diogo Dalot crossed from the right, Cavani’s initial effort was blocked, and the rebound fell invitingly for him to poke home. It was his sixth goals for the Reds from the bench.
Suddenly the momentum tilted towards United and Cavani came close to a second goal when his dink towards goal from Alex Telles’ cross was cleared off the line.
United made a third change when Scott McTominay limped off with 12 minutes left to be replaced by Nemanja Matic.
Newcastle almost snatched victory in the 87th minute.
Murphy’s initial strike from the left of the box hit the far upright and was cleared as far as substitute Miguel Almiron who shot was arrowing for the top corner only for De Gea to pull off a save he had no right to make to turn it over the bar.