The win puts United just six points behind Chelsea in fourth spot as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s success keeps on going. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Romelu Lukaku
This game was the perfect riposte to those who said that Romelu Lukaku’s first touch was terrible; because he scored with it today! For the second match in a row, Lukaku started on the bench and had to watch as Marcus Rashford led the line with dynamism.
But also for the second match in a row, Lukaku emerged from the bench to come on and score. Whilst against Bournemouth it was a nice addition to an already comfortable win, today his sharpness to pounce of Marcus Rashford’s spilled free-kick and tap home the rebound opened the scoring and gave United a crucial lead. He has become Solskjaer’s Solskjaer!
62:34: Romelu Lukaku comes on
63:12: Romelu Lukaku scores
38 seconds. ⏱ pic.twitter.com/imxuWS4dxn
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 2, 2019
After the goal Lukaku did show that despite his enormous size, he is actually not all that good at using his physical prowess. Too often he failed to hold defenders off, meaning that attacks broke down. But when United set him away, running at goal? Good things happened. Including an intelligent pass that led to United’s second and a perfectly timed run that would have seen him notch a second goal if Pogba had passed him the ball. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, it’s clear Romelu Lukaku is back in the groove under Solskjaer.
Loser: Martin Dubravka
Come on, man. When your team’s gameplan involves frustrating Manchester United, and your team is very much frustrating the hitherto free-flowing Manchester United, you’ve got to do your part. Obviously against a side as good as The Red Devils, anything can happen. Pogba can thwack one into the top corner, Martial can turn your defenders inside out and finish cooly, Mata could bend a free-kick in…
…but to let them score a rebound because you couldn’t hold on to a free-kick? Now fair enough, Marcus Rashford can definitely put some swazz on his free-kicks. They glide and bend their trajectory in the air. But Dubravka was right behind it, he had it clocked. Then he just spilled it out to Lukaku’s feet and put Newcastle behind.
Winner: Victor Lindelof
When Manchester United signed Victor Lindelof, there was a lot of “who?” from the masses. And sure enough, Lindelof spent his debut season at Old Trafford looking like a deer in the headlights. But every time he played for Sweden, including at the 2018 World Cup, United fans were given glimpses of a defender they could only dream of having.
Well, now they do. It’s taken him a long time but Victor Lindelof finally looks like a Manchester United defender under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (after glimpses under José Mourinho). And not in the sense that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are literally defenders playing for Manchester United, but a towering defensive presence that is fit to wear the same shirt that was graced by the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Matic.
The Swede was superb against Newcastle. He had almost zero help from the two defenders either side of him and certainly had no help from Nemanja Matic ahead of him, yet he was constantly up to the task of repelling Magpie forays into the United area. If the Red Devils were able to pair him with a defender of a more organisational style, they could have one hell of a defensive pairing.
Loser: Christian Atsu
There’s a quirk to being a wing-forward in that you can objectively “play” well; as in your movement can be great, you can participate well in the build-up, linking with your team-mates and being a fantastic outlet for your side; but if your finishing isn’t on point, people don’t care.
Atsu’s movement in the first half was sublime. He ruthlessly exploited the fact that Victor Lindelof was having to cover an inordinate amount of space due to being flanked by the past-it Antonio Valencia and the pitiful Phil Jones. Atsu was constantly running into channels around Lindelof and getting a surprising number of clean looks at David De Gea. But nearly every single shot he made was tame and straight at David De Gea, meaning that despite Newcastle putting up good “shots on target” numbers, they never really threatened De Gea.
Winner: Alexis Sánchez
Hey, this guy can still play! Who knew, eh?
Everyone had written off Alexis Sánchez as a Manchester United flop. And to be fair that wasn’t an entirely inaccurate statement because he did, in fact, look like a Manchester United flop. A world-class player for Udinese, Barcelona, Arsenal as well as Chile… it made no sense that he was suddenly useless for United, but useless he was.
Whatever the cause was, it’s a new start for everyone at Old Trafford and in his first minutes under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alexis showed that spark of genius you want to see from your superstar forwards. Receiving a simple square pass from Romelu Lukaku he stood on the edge of the Newcastle box and bisected their defence with a stunning pass to Marcus Rashford in miles of space. The Englishman scored, and Alexis notched just his third assist of the season before going on to play well on the break for the rest of the game.
Winner: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
There’s only two managers in Manchester United history that have won their first four top-flight league games in charge. One of them is Sir Matt Busby, the second greatest manager in the club’s history, and the other is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Man Utd in the Premier League under Ole Gunnar Solskjær:
🔴 4 games
🔴 4 wins
🔴 14 goals
Exactly what they wanted. pic.twitter.com/csmXaSU6Pa
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 2, 2019
It’s hard to put into words what has changed at Old Trafford under the Norwegian’s charge, because it’s honestly just everything. The players look happier, the football is prettier, the fans are even more vocal, and even though the defence is still a bit ropey the club play with such verve in attack they can cover for it.
This match wasn’t as dynamic as the previous wins, with Solskjaer coming up against a fantastic tactical mind of Rafa Benitez. Newcastle set-out to stifle United and did just that, but the Red Devils found a way in the end with Solskjaer’s substitutions making the difference. The once super-sub has managed to turn Romelu Lukaku into a super-sub as well, and then they ran hard on the break. Moreover, the side kept a clean sheet at last! David de Gea will be happy!
Obviously there will be tougher tests to come, but right now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has rejuvenated Manchester United, thankfully making one of the most expensively assembled squads in the Premier League actually fun to watch!