EPL

Man United continue to drift towards irrelevance

By Sports Desk October 06, 2019

A year to the day since their stunning 3-2 comeback at home to Newcastle United eased the pressure on then-boss Jose Mourinho, Manchester United continued what appears to be a slow, painful march into mediocrity against the same opposition on Sunday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer initially sparked a turnaround in United's fortunes as he lifted the gloom around Old Trafford, breathing life into the club following the end of Mourinho's reign.

Since March's VAR-assisted comeback win at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, though, United have been abysmal and Solskjaer's days appear increasingly numbered. Perhaps only a lack of viable alternatives is keeping him in the job.

There are extenuating circumstances. At St James' Park there was no Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly, all injured.

With so many regulars missing most teams would struggle, but United's lack of squad depth is of their own making. They failed to sign any attacking reinforcements after allowing both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to join Inter, a decision signed off by Solskjaer.

Of those players remaining, Marcus Rashford's confidence has never looked lower, the initial spark provided by Wales winger Daniel James has fizzled out and David de Gea no longer looks among the world's best goalkeepers.

Few Premier League teams would find any use for Fred, a below-average midfielder who only gets selected as an alternative to the static Nemanja Matic. Andreas Pereira's inability to provide little creativity whatsoever is partly due to being fielded on the wing rather than his preferred central position, but mostly because the Brazilian seems out of his depth at this level. Juan Mata, despite a continued sureness of touch, ceased to be an elite playmaker several years ago. To describe Scott McTominay as an enigma would be kind.

At Newcastle, against a team hammered and humiliated by Leicester City last time out, Solskjaer's side created almost nothing from open play – they managed three shots on target – although how Harry Maguire failed to convert Ashley Young's corner when given a free header from five yards out will forever be a mystery.

There was no surprise when Newcastle, whose under-fire boss Steve Bruce was marking his 400th Premier League game as a manager, broke the deadlock in the rain 72 minutes in.

Matty Longstaff rattled the crossbar in the first half, Miguel Almiron wasted two clear sights of goal and Andy Carroll headed an inviting centre wide before De Gea was finally beaten from outside the box.

Longstaff, making his Premier League debut alongside older brother Sean in the Newcastle midfield, then sent a true drive fizzing into the net, much to the delight of the home fans.

Beating United is no longer that special, though. This season they have already lost to Crystal Palace and West Ham in the league. They needed penalties to get past Rochdale in the EFL Cup. Ex-United centre-back Bruce had overseen 22 matches against United without recording a single victory.

Newcastle moving out of the bottom three will buy Bruce some much-needed goodwill and time, which are both rapidly running out for Solskjaer. Top four? They're not even in the top half of the table.

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