Steve McClaren’s tenure has begun in eclectic fashion. Some disjointed pressing was mixed jarringly with brief flashes of talent in the opening-day draw with Southampton, while defeat at Swansea evoked familiar memories of entangled centre-backs and wearily stilted attacking patterns. The mood around St James’ Park is one of optimism tinged with forebodings of chaos and inconsistency – fitting neatly with recent history on Tyneside.
Newcastle held just 34% possession and completed 258 passes at the Liberty Stadium, as territorial retreat denied them access to the meandering trio up front and ensured an anxious regression towards the hoofing of the Carver era. The ease with which Swansea imposed themselves is cause for concern (albeit with an extra man), and strong evidence that Manchester United will perform with similar dominance.
Louis van Gaal has continued to develop United’s controlling philosophy this season with a switch to 4-2-3-1. Morgan Schneiderlin-built attacks put an emphasis on a positional fluidity closely aligned to Total Football aesthetics; the tactical pattern of this match is easy to predict. Without the suspended Daryl Janmaat, Man United’s left-focused attacks could be devastating.
New signing Chancel Mbemba will deputise at right-back, a position he admitted to having played only once in his life before joining Newcastle. And last week Swansea’s second goal resulted directly from Montero dribbling easily past the DR Congo international and crossing into the box, meaning the exciting young trio of Memphis Depay, Luke Shaw and Adnan Januzaj will likely cause serious problems on this side.
So far 49% of Manchester United’s attacks have come down the left flank this season (most in division). Beginning with Juan Mata, all three attacking midfielders drift over to the left – resulting in an overload on the wing as Januzaj joins Depay and an overlapping Shaw. It was interplay in this area that led to the winning goal against Villa and two of the goals at Old Trafford in midweek.
Van Gaal is a manager who thrives on tactical tinkering and exploiting chinks in the opponents' armour. After Depay’s midweek battering, an awkward Mbemba should be very nervous.
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