Manchester United fans could hardly believe what they were seeing when the team sheet was revealed ahead of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Newcastle. Not only had Paul Pogba returned to the starting lineup after over two months out, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo were named on the bench.
To add to the excitement, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku all started together for the first time.
Yet it was Newcastle who scored the opening goal. For all the expectation over United’s attack, it was their weak central defensive pairing that allowed the visitors to take the lead through Dwight Gayle.
Their advantage didn’t last long, though, with Martial putting away a good cross from Pogba. Chris Smalling put United in front before it was Pogba’s turn to score. Newcastle gave up at this point, yet Romelu Lukaku still rubbed salt in the wounds with a fourth.
To come back from a goal behind to win 4-1 shows impressive resilience. United looked like a totally different team to the one for much of the first half.
Pogba put in a brilliant display and this set the tone for the team as a whole. He’s the engine. It’s almost as if having your best player on the pitch has a considerable impact on how well you play. Who would have thought it?
Getting to see Ibrahimovic back in a United shirt was a great moment for the supporters who, not long ago, worried if he would ever play football again.
United’s defence is still less than convincing, although it should probably be remembered the two starting central defenders aren’t at the top of the pecking order when everyone is available.
Manager rating out of 10
8 — Jose Mourinho finally played the forward line that the supporters have been calling out for. And it worked. It was hardly a tactical masterclass, with Newcastle offering very little in the second half, but this is the sort of football the fans want to see.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 7 — Made a great stop from point blank range just before the half time whistle blew. Also showed fantastic athleticism to get a hand to a shot that was going in the top corner.
DF Antonio Valencia, 6 — Spent much of the game charging down the right wing. Did well when called upon defensively, which was fairly rare.
DF Victor Lindelof, 5 — Having played a risky pass back to De Gea minutes earlier, he left Gayle unmarked for the goal when slipping at the vital moment.
DF Chris Smalling, 6 — Didn’t do enough to stop the cross that came in for Newcastle’s goal. Made amends somewhat with a good header to put United 2-1 ahead.
DF Ashley Young, 7 — Delivered plenty of great crosses but none better than the one that set up Smalling’s goal.
MF Nemanja Matic, 7 — Very solid performance from the Serbian, who must love having Pogba back in the team.
MF Paul Pogba, 9 — The midfielder is such a huge presence for United. He was central to so much of their play, showing great passing ability, and assisted United’s equaliser. Presented with a simple tap in for United’s third. It was a fantastic performance from him, even if you don’t take in to consideration how long he has been out for.
FW Marcus Rashford, 7 — Created United’s first chance when getting behind Newcastle’s defence. Showed so much energy and attacking intent all game, before setting up Pogba for his goal.
FW Juan Mata, 7 — Won the ball for United in good positions on a couple of occasions to start off attacks. Played some great balls forward. Substituted, as always.
FW Anthony Martial, 8 — Had been fairly quiet leading up to his goal but was in the right place at the right time to head in United’s equaliser. Went on to attack Newcastle’s defence with startling pace and brilliantly skilful feet before being substituted.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 7 — Couldn’t keep his first attempt down after getting in to a good position. Great work in the lead up to United’s third and showed fantastic composure to score the fourth.