Manchester United escape Newcastle with a point after a dismal display by Ralf Rangnick’s side as sub Edinson Cavani comes to the rescue to cancel out Allan Saint-Maximin’s superb opening goal
Manchester United have a fashionable new manager, a fancy new formation but sadly the same players.
Ralf Rangnick’s team were abysmal here in the north-east rain. Shambolic, lacking intelligence and, most damningly of all, occasionally unwilling to do the hard yards.
What is it that happens to good players when they wear the red of this great club? Until Rangnick and his eclectic new coaching staff can figure that out, there will be more nights like this.
Newcastle were superb for Eddie Howe. Finally their supporters can hope. They didn’t deserve a point from this, they deserved all three. That they didn’t take them was due largely to the brilliance of United’s goalkeeper David de Gea and, right at the end, the thickness of a post.
When they scored early on through the fabulously entertaining Allan Saint-Maximin, it felt as though the home team would face a mighty struggle to hold on.
United had not played for two and a half weeks and were at full strength. But that was not how this game played out.
Howe’s Newcastle were energetic and full of ideas and menace. United, on the other hand, were full of mistakes.
In the centre of the field the Brazilian Fred was laughably bad. Behind him Raphael Varane was almost as dreadful and there were others. At half-time Rangnick hauled off Fred and Mason Greenwood but there were many other candidates for that indignity. Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo were among them.
In the end United took a point. They may feel that is okay but it isn’t.
Prior to this game, only Burnley had lost here in the league. That United came within 21 minutes of doing likewise should shame them. So should the fact that Newcastle had twice as many shots on target and also hit the post through Miguel Almiron in added time.
Rangnick has done his best to shake things up.
After a couple of weeks of thought, he set United up to play 4-2-2-2 here. Strange but at least it was different. But formations mean nothing if players can’t keep the ball or do the basics.
Newcastle’s opening goal in the seventh minute was superb but also had roots in a United mistake as Varane failed to control a ball in the centre of the field. Saint-Maximin was on it in a flash and drove hard at the top of the United penalty area, cutting right past Diogo Dalot and then Maguire before slashing a fierce shot in to the corner to De Gea’s left. The goalkeeper had no chance and St James’ Park was alive.
Maybe Newcastle needed to score again to have a chance of winning. As chaotic as United remain, they do normally score. Howe’s team had their moments as De Gea dived to deny Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson was correctly denied by an offside flag.
But it was a moment right at the start of the second half that felt huge at the time and ultimately proved so. When Emil Krath reached the byline to cross low, Saint-Maximin had 80 per cent of the goal to aim at but could not make the necessary connection and could only drag the ball back towards De Gea.
At first sight it looked a very good save but it was actually a really bad miss and that was a shame for player who had contributed so much to the night.
With Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho on, United did improve a little. Rashford had a long shot touched over and one from Ronaldo fizzed wide. Cavani then miscued after Sancho set him up.
But the high comedy remained. Sancho crossed in to the crowd and then Rashford did the same. Harry Maguire then played a ball from deep straight into touch before Ronaldo was booked for a wild swipe at Ryan Fraser.
When United equalised, it was from their best piece of football of the night. A sweeping ball from Bruno Fernandes located Dalot on the right and when his low cross reached Cavani, he scored with a weak but accurate shot after his first attempt came back to him from a defender.
With a good chunk of time left to play, a good United team would have gone to win. In fact, a half decent United team would have done so. But this lot are an incohesive, half-hearted bunch at times. For too many of United’s players, there is always somebody else to blame. For a while it was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s fault but the removal of that excuse has now left them looking rather naked. We can see them now for what they are.
Towards the end, it was Newcastle who pushed for glory. Howe had been brave enough to send on Almiron – an attacking player – and he brought a simply wonderful save from De Gea moments after a raking drive from Jacob Murphy struck the foot of the post.
The fourth official gave United six added minutes to save themselves but they did nothing with it and at full-time Ronaldo was straight down the tunnel. No acknowledgement for travelling supporters facing 150 miles home in the rain. No acknowledgement for his opponents.
Ronaldo has form for this and it’s not good enough. When is someone going to tell him that he is part of this team and as such part of this problem?