Manchester United made it seven wins from their last eight Premier League games with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Newcastle yesterday; talk of a potential title bid is starting to gather speed.
Alan Pardew’s men have had a hot and cold season, but the St James’ Park boss will not be enamoured by his side’s recent inconsistency and a tame performance at Old Trafford.
With the festive fixture list piling up, it is worth examining both sides more closely after yesterday’s game; here are five key observations.
Rooney could well be the midfielder that United have craved
With the January transfer window approaching, one of United’s transfer priorities is said to be a new midfielder with energy, vision and drive.
However, Rooney’s man of the match display suggests that Louis van Gaal’s side may be able to dedicate their transfer funds elsewhere.
The England international’s movement off the ball, ability to get from box-to-box and range of passing against Newcastle show that Rooney’s long-term future may well be in a deeper role.
With Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao combining well in the side’s attack, Rooney looks to have adapted perfectly to a position in the centre of the park.
Newcastle’s midfield three fail to utilise their numerical advantage
The away side won the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford last season, with a key facet of the 1-0 victory Newcastle’s ability to keep the ball and have the lion’s share of possession.
However, despite fielding a central midfield trio of Vurnon Anita, Jack Colback and Moussa Sissoko, outnumbering their opponents, United had 62 per cent of possession and as such put Pardew’s men under concerted periods of pressure.
Similarly, Rooney in particular was allowed significant amounts of space to pick a pass without being pressurised; the Newcastle manager will not have been impressed by his midfield’s showing in the aftermath of the game.
Where does Ángel Di María fit in?
Despite the fact that United are starting to click there are still some household names that are to return from injury, with Ángel Di María a player that the Old Trafford faithful will hope will be back in contention sooner rather than later.
However, with Rooney fitting into the centre of the park well, Juan Mata linking up with his fellow attackers with aplomb and the strike pairing working cohesively, Di María’s first job will be getting back into the starting XI.
It remains to be seen just what the Argentine’s best position in the United side is, with Van Gaal deploying the former Real Madrid star in a number of roles since his summer switch.
Although it offers the Manchester club great strength in depth in the attacking third, it may well be that Mata is the man that misses out and is forced to drop to the bench when Di María is available.
Ayoze Pérez quite the find but needs a powerful and direct strike partner
Newcastle had a number of chances throughout the game, especially on the counter-attack, with young Spanish forward Ayoze Pérez central to their attacking ambition.
The former Tenerife attacker has had an excellent start to life in England and was unlucky not to add to his four Premier League goals at Old Trafford.
Pardew opted to partner Perez with 17-year-old Adam Armstrong on Friday and although the teenager applied himself well and looks to have a bright future in the game, his selection was questionable.
For Pérez to continue to prosper in the Newcastle attack surely a more traditional number nine such as Papiss Cissé or Emmanuel Rivière would be a more fitting attacking partner.
This would dissolve the Spaniard’s responsibility of holding up the ball and allow him to make better use of available space.
Ashley Young deserves praise after enduring criticism
Last season Ashley Young was one of the United fans’ scapegoats but the winger has been reinvented under Van Gaal and looks back to the form that convinced the club to sign him from Aston Villa in 2011.
The England international appears to have taken to the wing-back role well and certainly got the better of opposite number Daryl Janmaat in their personal battle yesterday.
Although not a natural defender, Young was solid when going back towards his own goal, but the threat he offers in the final third could well be a key aspect of United’s attacking game.
His delivery, especially when cutting back onto his right foot, was superb and his presence in the team will surely present Van Persie and Falcao with plenty of goalscoring chances in upcoming games.