Ninety minutes to argue against deselection, if you like, in which case being torn apart twice by bottom-three opponents was neither a good look nor a great advertisement. left it late to win their first home match in five attempts. There was no such backing as the home side went two goals down inside 10 minutes for the first time ever in a Premier League game at Old Trafford, but just when he needed it most Mourinho and his team came through with the sort of stirring fightback supporters had begun to despair of ever seeing again. The stadium was a happy place at the end, it had seen the first decent game in quite some time, and neither of those eventualities seemed on the cards when the match kicked off.
There were chants of “José Mourinho” from the Stretford End as Manchester UnitedDo not misunderstand, Newcastle United were extremely impressive as they raced into a 2-0 lead inside 10 minutes, making a mockery of the fact that they arrived in Manchester without a win to their name this season and giving a huge amount of credence to Rafa Benítez’s claim that they will not be going down any time soon. But with reports suggesting Manchester United intend to sack Mourinho during the international break – denied in private briefings but not in a way amounting to unequivocal backing for the manager – this game became a sort of audition for the Portuguese’s own job.
In terms of Mourinho’s future the much-discussed manager looked a goner as Newcastle started the game like a runaway train, yet one thrilling recovery later – capped by a winning goal from the much-maligned Alexis Sánchez – it was clear his players are anything but demotivated and far from certain that the Manchester United hierarchy need to make any hurried decisions over the weekend.
It was only possible in the end to feel sorry for Newcastle, who a major part of this game’s entertainment factor and were worth at least a share of the points, but the home side inexorably wore them down in the second half, when all three Manchester United goals were scored.
Mourinho has not lost the knack, he still knows how to silence Old Trafford. The manager initially came to prominence in England by leaving the crowd gobsmacked on his first visit to Manchester United’s stadium, and if this was his last he might just have repeated the trick.
Proof that the United manager’s usual stridency has been replaced by a more defensive, almost wheedling tone, arrived before kick-off. Never one to miss a self-promotional trick, Mourinho took the opportunity in his truncated programme notes to mention the fact that United have the most points of any English team in the Champions League.
That is true but at the same time a sad reflection on how desperate a manager who once bestrode Europe has become for any kind of attention. Tottenham have been beaten in the Champions League by Internazionale and Barcelona, Liverpool lost narrowly the other night to Napoli. United’s sole European victory to date came against the more accommodating Young Boys of Switzerland. Mourinho should perhaps have waited until the upcoming fixtures against Juventus before making the boast, though of course, he may not be around by then.
When the game commenced it was apparent straight away that Newcastle intended to try to seize an opportunity rather than put up one of their defensive blockades. Hurrying their opponents into mistakes, the visitors capitalised the first time when Nemanja Matic lost the ball on halfway. Ayoze Pérez played an inspired pass to set Kenedy free, cutting out both centre-halves with his accuracy and obliging Ashley Young to come across to cover. The full-back was too late, Kenedy held him off easily and whipped a shot into David de Gea’s bottom corner.
If that was bad, things got worse for the home side in another couple of minutes, when Eric Bailly failed to cut out a cross and the ball fell to Yoshinori Muto, making his first league start in a Newcastle shirt but looking dangerous from the beginning. The former Mainz striker had his back to goal at first but deftly turned to beat De Gea with a firmly struck shot.
Even when two up Newcastle showed no intention of dropping back to protect their lead. Jonjo Shelvey brought a diving save from De Gea, Muto headed straight at the United goalkeeper from close range and Young was lucky not to have a penalty awarded against him when he blocked a free-kick with his arm. Mourinho’s response to going behind so quickly was to yank Bailly and send on Juan Mata, though the only clear-cut chance created before the interval fell to Marcus Rashford, who headed wide from Romelu Lukaku’s cross.
United have never found themselves two goals down at home inside 10 minutes in the Premier League era, and here they were all of a sudden with Scott McTominay operating at centre-back. Mourinho made another adjustment at half-time, withdrawing McTominay in favour of Marouane Fellaini, this time sending Matic and Paul Pogba back to help Chris Smalling with the defensive duties.
Both midfielders nevertheless found themselves far enough forward to threaten early in the second half, Matic shooting too high after Martin Dubravka had produced a terrific save to deny Pogba. Rashford headed over from a Pogba cross as United poured their efforts into reducing the deficit with, it ought to be said, rousing backing from a crowd that spent the first half in shock.
With 23 minutes remaining Mourinho deployed his third substitute and his last hope in the form of Alexis Sánchez. The former Arsenal player immediately played a small part in pulling a goal back, but only as a dummy runner for Mata to strike a free kick past Dubravka after Anthony Martial had been clipped by Mohamed Diame on the edge of the area. It was no more than the home side deserved, for Newcastle’s composure had been showing signs of wilting through being relentlessly pushed back.
After that, the full comeback was on, and though Dubravka performed heroically to deny Fellaini and Martial he was eventually beaten by the latter as shots rained in on goal. United kept surging forward, and even as the game entered its final minute there was still a certain inevitability about the third goal and its scorer, Sánchez rising behind Martial to head firmly home from Young’s cross. Cruel on Newcastle, but reports of Manchester United’s demise have clearly been exaggerated.
Source: The Guardian