Manchester United faced Newcastle United this weekend, hoping to continue the momentum gained from their 3-1 victory against Club Brugge in the mid-week Champions League play-in match. United certainly maintained their form from the match, but were unable to obtain the winning result they desired and deserved.
Louis Van Gaal's starting lineup made one change from the match played at mid-week, starting Bastian Schweinsteiger in place of Michael Carrick. The lineup included Romero in goal, the unbeaten back four of Darmian, Smalling, Blind and Shaw, the midfield comprised of Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Memphis, Januzaj, Mata, and Wayne Rooney in the lone striker role.
United were the hosts on the afternoon, but did little to welcome their opponents graciously. They dominated possession the entire match, mostly in Newcastle's half of the field. Their opponents seemed to prepare a game plan that readied them for the onslaught of United and even more so for the opportunity of a counterattack.
United's pressure presented them many chances, but none better than an early chance for Rooney, nullified by an incorrect offside call by the linesman. After a quick turnover in possession on a Tim Krul goal kick, Januzaj played Rooney through on goal, but the sideline referee's raised flag denied the move. The incorrect call didn't discourage the Red Devils, but inspired them with renewed purpose. Their next attempt on goal was the result of persistent, probing passing that led to a low-driven shot by Juan Mata parried uncomfortably from the right corner by Krul's forearm. United's next attempt on net came from a dribble down the left flank. Memphis dribbled his defender, played a ball into space and escaped the attempted tackle by the Newcastle right back. His shot on goal, however, did little to challenge Krul and some might argue whether he might have been better off looking for a pass or cross that might have led to stronger attempt on goal.
Shortly after, United would have to defend their own goal, barely escaping without conceding a goal that surely would have devastated their spirits. A cross entered the box and found the rising Aleksandr Mitrovic's head. His headed shot beat the outstretched Sergio Romero, but hit the corner where crossbar and upright meet and rebounded into the middle of the 18-yard box to be tidied up by the United defense. United's spell in defense continued when a clearance by Smalling ricocheted and fell for Ayoze Perez to strike on net. His attempt on goal required a diving fingertip save from Romero, providing Newcastle a dangerous corner kick.
The disallowed Rooney goal was perhaps not the only mistake given by the officiating crew. When a Juan Mata dribble was impeded by a Jack Colback tackle on the edge of the penalty area, the referee decided to allow play to continue with no interest in the foul that replay reveals was committed. Juan Mata would have another chance to impact the match, when a Rooney far post cross arrived for a volley chance on his weaker right side. His attempt on net did not test the keeper, however, a waste of the attacking movement.
When Michael Carrick entered the game for Schweinsteiger, it was clear that Newcastle had fully parked the bus with all eleven players in their defensive half, content to see out a 0-0 draw. Carrick's incisive passing led to a chance for Chicharito, who entered the game for Januzaj. He hit a driven pass to Chicharito, who played a layoff to Mata. Mata attempted a through ball that was defended well, but fell to Chicharito playing him through one on one with the goalkeeper. Chicharito's attempt on a goal, a left-footed shot, destined for the back of the net, was saved by a sprawling Krul's left leg. Chicharito's approach to goal could have been successful had it been changed by dribbling the keeper with one more touch or faking a shot to force Krul to commit.
Another great chance would arrive on United's tenth corner of the match. Memphis played a ball into the penalty area, finding the rising head of Chris Smalling. Smalling's attempt on net hit the base of the right post and was cleared. The clearance placed United's defense in peril of a counterattack late in the match that would have truly broken the spirit of the team and supporters in Old Trafford. The menacing movement petered out for a mere goal kick, but required stout defense by Daley Blind. United returned to the offense after the brief scare on defense. On this occasion, Carrick was the man in action, hitting a shot on frame that was deflected by the Newcastle defense for United's eleventh and final corner. The corner was well defended and the game ended soon after as a 0-0 draw.
United earned a point on the weekend, but this will certainly be one weekend that they will regret not winning and earning the additional two. They dominated possession throughout the match, holding 68 percent, and shots with 20 total and eight on target. They were also hard done by the offside referee's decision on the early Rooney attempt that surely would have opened the game up, allowing more offensive opportunity had Newcastle surrendered a goal and been forced to chase the ball in order to score a tying goal.
Still, United must focus on the next step this campaign, which is fully punching their ticket into the Champions League on Wednesday against Brugge. With a 3-1 advantage on aggregate, United must avoid a 2-0 loss, which would see them out with a draw settled by away goals, which Brugge managed to obtain by the Carrick own goal. Given the vast difference in quality, I can't manage to see United losing the match let alone by two goals. United must also rotate players properly, as they play Swansea City the following match, when they return to Barclays Premier League play. United play Brugge at 2:45 in Belgium. The match will be aired on the Fox Sports Network. Their following match against Swansea will be played at Liberty Stadium in Wales at 11:00 a.m. and aired on NBCSN.