United played two games in the past week, both against North East rivals. The first one was on Saturday, at home to Sunderland. The side played decently enough in the first half, even if nothing out of the ordinary, and though they went in 0-0 at half-time, we knew United could win this if they pressed more.
When Januzaj replaced Di Maria for the second half, he was more incisive and started creating some much needed chances. When Falcao did one of the best moves of the game by turning John O’Shea inside out in the area, he was fouled by O’Shea (or was it Wes Brown?) for a clear-cut penalty. After Brown was wrongly sent off (or rightly according to referees’ association statement), Captain Rooney made sure he didn’t miss from the spot, and after that it was pretty much a one-sided affair. The same Rooney got a simple second goal with just over five minutes left to make sure that United returned to winning ways quickly after the defeat at Swansea.
It was then on to Newcastle to face Sunderland’s neighbours in midweek. Once again, United started a strong looking line-up, and played very well in the first-half. Apart from an incident in which Newcastle should have had a penalty, it was all United. Though they didn’t create too many clear-cut chances, they dominated the half, and should have gone into half-time leading. As the second half wore on, Newcastle got a little better, and a couple of De Gea saves kept them out. United had a few of good chances of their own, with Krul making an excellent double save from Fellaini and Young. Once again, Januzaj replaced Di Maria, but this time didn’t have as good an effect as against Sunderland. Mata came on for Fellaini with ten minutes to go to press more. When Carrick replaced Rojo in the last minute, many (including me) thought that United were holding out for a draw. Less than a minute later though, Ashley Young pounced on a mistake by Tim Krul and scored a last minute winner! What do we know eh?
It was a massive relief as this made sure that United stay in the top four, and it was a deserved three points, even if they left it very late. We doubt that the team would have won a similar game in such fashion last season, so at least the ‘fighting till the end’ mentality seems to be back within the squad.
Many will rightly point out that Newcastle were not awarded a penalty in the first half (Match of the Day and Sky Sports News certainly did), but it should also be pointed out that Wayne Rooney had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside when he was onside (not seen in any highlight shows that I’ve watched).
The game will be mostly remembered for ‘the spitting incident’ between Johnny Evans and Papiss Cisse. It’s a pity as apart from the fact that United played some nice football, it was brilliant to see Jonas Gutierrez make his return to playing after battling testicular cancer.
While very happy with the six points and the bulk of the performances from these two games, United need to step up a few gears as we come to the business end of the season, otherwise they might be found out and overtaken by other clubs who are on form at the moment. Some players need to show their mettle when needed, though I still think some of the criticism by our own fans goes way over the top. Take Di Maria for example. He has been out of sorts in the past couple of months, but we need to understand that this is his first season in England, where the football is faster and much more physical than Portugal and Spain. Once he bulks up and gets stronger, we won’t have to worry about him as we know he’s good enough to make it.
With ten games to go, United are still nicely poised to finish in the top four, even if we have tougher games coming up later on this month (and in April). As Van Gaal said, “it’s a rat race”, so get ready to get on that spinning wheel.
In other games, Chelsea beat Tottenham 2-0 at Wembley to win the League Cup, then beat West Ham 1-0 in the league to stay five points ahead of Manchester City; L’pool first beat a limp City 2-1, then beat Burnley 2-0 to stay on United’s tails in the fight for fourth place; Arsenal won 2-0 at home to Everton, then won again at QPR to stay in third place, one point ahead of United; Southampton lost 1-0 at West Brom, then beat Crystal Palace with the same score line to stay in sixth place, while Tottenham beat Swansea 3-2 to stay just behind Southampton with a game in hand.
Lower down the league, Everton lost 2-0 at Stoke to make sure they stay close to the relegation zone. Luckily for them, teams like Burnley and QPR keep losing, or they’d be even closer to the bottom three. Many of their fans are now saying that they only did well last season because of the work that David Moyes had done before leaving the club. A case of what goes around, comes around?
Looking at other news quickly, European clubs will be looking to find a ‘fair solution’ from FIFA after suggestions that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be held in winter. Which probably means they’ll be ok with it if (when) FIFA gives them some more money of the millions they keep making.
We now turn our attentions to the FA Cup as United play at home to Arsenal in the quarter-finals. Thanks to the BBC and their ‘magic of the cup’ spirit, we have to wait until Monday night to see such an important game (7:45pm UK time). Here’s hoping that the next time we write this article, our team will be on the way to Wembley… COME ON UNITED!!!