Man United 0 Newcastle United 1
David Moyes appears mired in a conundrum that has no resolution in sight after a fifth defeat in 15 Premier League games at the weekend left Man United anchored mid-table.
Moyes rightly claims little has changed in a squad that walked the league last season, but maintains supporters accept that it is a time of transition. But, if nothing has changed, why the big difference?
The feeling Alex Ferguson decided to move on at just the right time grows, as does the sense at suggestion that United were stocked with youngsters that will form their next great team was an utter myth.
There are few that would argue that the team that won the league by 11 points seven months ago was up there with United’s best.
As the weeks pass and Manchester United lurch from low to low, in performances just as much as results, the team’s achievements last season are brought into new perspective with the view that they muddled through thanks to a good squad and a couple of match-winners underlined time and again.
In the eight matches that Robin van Persie and a revitalised Wayne Rooney have started together, United have won six times and drawn twice.
But they have only as many wins and four draws and four defeats from the 14 that Moyes has been unable to pick the duo from the start for.
For all the systematic failings in front of what used to be a solid defence — from average wingers to a lack of quality in central midfield — United are now struggling for a killer instinct in attack and they have managed just eight goals in their seven home matches, which is comparable to teams at the bottom.
Ferguson admits he relentlessly talked up United’s ability to snatch points late on in an attempt to inspire his players and put a mental drain on the opposition. Falling behind was just as much of a habit last season but it certainly did not matter as much.
The current bunch have fought from behind to win against Sunderland and Stoke and draw at Tottenham. But they seem just as susceptible to similar treatment and have also coughed up late equalisers against Southampton and Cardiff, as well as Everton’s decisive late goal in the 1-0 defeat last week.
When United were chasing this one, Moyes threw on Wilfried Zaha for his first Premier League appearance as a replacement for the ineffective Nani, swapped mediocre for woeful when he replaced Tom Cleverley and Anderson, before putting Antonio Valencia on at right-back.
It was hardly the most glowing endorsement of his opinion on unused substitutes Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young.
With Van Persie still clearly unfit after a groin problem as well as starved of any service and Rooney absent through suspension, the lack of intensity in Saturday’s performance meant that rather than the kitchen sink, United’s attempts to fight their way back were more like attempting to flush a broken outside toilet.
“It is a concern because I tried to chuck the kitchen sink at them,” Moyes said.
“I tried to put Antonio on to go without a right-back and get Adnan Januzaj to come in.
“We looked to try to find openings to give us a chance and we nearly put on as many attacking options as we could to try to get those chances. I think we’ve got a really good record when Robin and Wayne play together but we knew at the start of the season that there would be times when players would be injured or suspended.
“We can play better but there were a lot of games last year where Manchester United didn’t play particularly well and maybe in a game like that sneaked it with a goal.”
They were unfortunate that Patrice Evra’s header hit the post before Vernon Anita handled on the line, but Newcastle moved ahead when Moussa Sissoko broke down the right and pulled back for Yohan Cabaye to sweep the ball in from the edge of the area to secure his team’s first win at Old Trafford since 1972.
“We have a big respect for Manchester United, but we do not have to be afraid of anyone because we have beaten Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United now,” Cabaye said.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): De Gea 6; Rafael 5 (Valencia 76), Evans 6, Vidic 6, Evra 5; Januzaj 7, Cleverley 5 (Anderson 69, 5), Jones 5, Nani 4 (Zaha 68, 6); Hernandez 5, Van Persie 6.
NEWCASTLE (4-5-1): Krul 7; Debuchy 7 (Yanga-Mbiwa 83), Williamson 8, Coloccini 7, Santon 7; Sissoko 7 Cabaye 8 (Ameobi 78), Tiote 8, Anita 7, Gouffran 6 (Ben Arfa 57, 7); Remy 7.
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