Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney grabs a brace to overcome Newcastle

Louis Van Gaal’s team were clinical in attack once more

Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mate Radamel Falcao during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mate Radamel Falcao during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

Manchester United 3 Newcastle 1

Slowly but surely, the new Manchester United are starting to resemble something more like the old Manchester United. There are still imperfections and, defensively, it is very much a work in progress, but at least they have rediscovered a winning habit and a commitment to attacking, incisive football. They are playing with a new confidence when they go forward and, after the ordeal of the David Moyes era, that is a start.

The decline might have been steep but the personnel are still formidable when Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata are lurking behind Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao. Rooney scored twice, with a couple of Paul Scholes-like runs into the penalty area, as well as creating the third for Van Persie with a beautifully measured 40-yard ball towards the far post.

Falcao, looking fitter than for some time, laid on the first goal but his part in the second should not be overlooked either, sliding in to win the tackle that initiated the attack from which Mata played the killer pass and Rooney supplied the finish. Mata was also involved in the brilliant exchange of passes that took the home side from one end of the pitch to the other to open the scoring and when this quartet are hitting these notes it can make up for all manner of deficiencies elsewhere in the team.

Mata will certainly be relieved that the referee, Mike Jones, gave him the benefit of the doubt after that early moment when Yoan Gouffran chased after a long ball into the penalty area, with the game at 0-0, and the Spaniard clipped his heels. Accidental or not, he had brought down his opponent and a penalty for Newcastle at that stage would certainly have given the game a much different complexion. Rooney’s first goal arrived nine minutes later and, in between, there was the latest addition to David de Gea’s portfolio of outstanding saves, turning away a long-range effort from Daryl Janmaat as it soared towards the top corner.

Newcastle had begun as though encouraged by what happened last season when they won here for the first time since February 1972 and eager, perhaps, to shake their defeat to Sunderland out of their system as quickly as possible. Alan Pardew had experimented with a new wing-back formation, designed to go like for like with the home side, and there were brief flashes to demonstrate why Adam Armstrong, their 17-year-old striker, is so highly commended at St James’s Park. Armstrong had been chosen ahead of Papiss Cissé and was lively, if isolated, as the most advanced player in a side who probably should have been more emboldened to find the gaps in the opposition defence. Had they done so, they might have discovered more of the vulnerabilities that led to Phil Jones flicking out his left leg to concede a needless penalty on Jack Colback four minutes from the end.

Instead, it was Louis van Gaal’s team, now with 22 points out of a possible 24, who attacked with the greater verve. Falcao had one of his more productive days and it was clear why Van Gaal removed Michael Carrick just after the hour, with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur to follow on Sunday.

Carrick’s return from injury has been instrumental to the team’s recovery and the news before kick-off that Angel di María had been hurt in training was another reminder about the club’s luckless run on that front. To date, there have been 49 reported injuries afflicting Van Gaal’s squad this season, involving 24 first-team players.

Cissé had replaced Armstrong midway through the second half and expertly put Newcastle’s late penalty beyond De Gea but by that stage the game was meandering towards its close and Van Gaal’s calculated gamble to start Paddy McNair for the first time since taking him off before half-time in the recent match at Southampton had not backfired.

Rooney had started the move for the first goal and, typically, continued his run all the way into the penalty area, brilliantly picked out by Falcao as he threw himself at Mata’s cross and picked out his team-mate almost at full length. Rooney has a long history of scoring against Newcastle and his second was another smart finish, this time traced back to Gouffran’s poor ball to Ayoze Pérez in a position that immediately left the visitors looking vulnerable. Pérez was surrounded and when a player of Falcao’s gifts is diving into tackles for his team it feels like a sure sign that United are back on an upward trajectory.

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