Premier League champions Manchester United slumped to their second successive1-0 defeat at home in a week, with Newcastle ending a run of over 40 years without a victory at Old Trafford on Saturday.
A Yohan Cabaye strike in the second-half was enough to see the Tyneside visitors to a memorable win, with David Moyes under pressure after a lacklustre showing from his team.
Although United were poor in defeat, Newcastle played with enterprise and purpose – with Alan Pardew’s tactics spot on for the occasion.
Newcastle have used a number of different formations this season, but have been getting joy with a 4-4-2 system over the last month. However, with the game against United specifically in mind, the St James’ Park outfit switched to a bespoke 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 on Saturday.
This change proved perfect for Newcastle, while exposed the all-too evident weaknesses of a Manchester United side in transition.
Sacrificing striker Shola Ameobi facilitated the inclusion of Vurnon Anita in the centre of the park, giving the visitors an extra player in the boiler room and allowing them relative dominance; Newcastle ended up with 53 per cent of possession.
Moyes selected Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones in the centre of the park, and this pair were outnumbered, outmaneuvered and outplayed by their Newcastle equivalents.
Cheick Tioté won the battle of the enforcers against Jones, making more tackles and completing more passes, while Anita also contributed to break up the hosts’ play.
This pair in the midfield allowed Cabaye to get further forward; a move that eventually resulted in the winning goal.
The case for United to move for Leighton Baines in January continues to build, with Patrice Evra putting in a mediocre performance at best. The veteran left-back could not match the physicality of Moussa Sissoko, and Mathieu Debuchy got forward at will to get in behind the United defender.
The fact that the goal originated down United’s left was no real surprise, while Debuchy also had a gilt-edged chance at the end of the first-half after exposing poor positional play by Evra.
United only had four shots on target and in truth never really looked like creating the required chances to get back in the game. Robin van Persie and Javier Hernández are too alike to play together, while Nani was largely anonymous.
Adnan Januzaj was probably the home side’s most dangerous player, which is a statement in itself, as the English champions should not have to rely on an 18-year-old with only five Premier League starts to his name.
Moyes’ men really lacked invention and creativity, with Wayne Rooney’s absence due to suspension highlighting the side’s reliance on him. Shinji Kagawa was also unavailable through illness, and the hosts looked one-dimensional as a result.
Newcastle played their part in United’s lack of attacking thrust too, however. The extra man in the middle of the park prevented the home side from passing through them, meaning that Moyes’ team reverted to a more direct approach – but Fabricio Coloccini dominated the aerial battles to make this tactic defunct also.
On the flanks, both Debuchy and Davide Santon showed superb discipline and positional awareness to largely neutralise their opposite numbers, while the Newcastle wingers, Sissoko in particular, worked back tirelessly to assists their team-mates.
Two United home defeats in the space of a week sends out a real message to the rest of the Premier League, with the champions’ title defence looking in tatters. The loss to Newcastle means Moyes has suffered defeat in a third of his games in the Premier League this season – a very worrying statistic.
Newcastle must receive plaudits for an outstanding collective performance, which was boosted by excellent tactics from Alan Pardew. However, United’s weaknesses were cruelly exposed, suggesting a real shift in power at the pinnacle of English football.