. Manchester United went to the top of the table following a goalless draw with Newcastle United at Old Trafford but they will struggle to mount a title challenge if their forward line continues to offer such insipid performances.
7 points from 3 games is a fairly decent result especially considering the slow starts Manchester United have been off to over the last couple of seasons. However, any and all of their title rivals be it Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal, could be expected to have scored 3 points in this match. This must surely be worrying for Louis Van Gaal.
Steve McClaren, on the other hand, will be delighted after earning a point from this match. After their defeat against Swansea the Magpies looked like relegation contenders but after this showing McClaren can be expected to have the confidence to ensure a mid table finish for his team this season.
Van Gaal is laying the defensive foundations
All the headlines so far have been about Wayne Rooneya s struggles in front of the goal and the need for Van Gaal to buy an established No.9 who can assist the Englishman. While this is certainly one point of contention which should be worked on in the last week of the transfer window, there is another aspect of this United team which must definitely be pleasing the Dutch tactician.
Since the heyday of Rio Ferdinand & Nemanja Vidic, United have not had anything remotely like a world class partnership at the back. Although it would be highly pretentious to compare Chris Smalling & Daley Blind to the aforementioned duo, this unlikely pairing is definitely holding their own so far. While Smalling is all about raw pace & physicality, his Dutch partner is more about playing the cultured pass and reading the game. In some respects their style together could be compared to that of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister.
The full backs too have been excelling. Mateo Darmian at right back has certainly been the standout performer for United this season. He is a definite upgrade on Antonio Valencia and has all the class and tenacity which you would expect from an Italian international defender. Luke Shaw on the other hand looks a lot fitter and sharper than last season and is developing an understanding with Memphis Depay which could trouble a lot of sides on the right flank. Goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, while no means a David De Gea has also looked solid in his first four matches. If only Van Gaal could sort out his forwards, United would be a stronger team.
Manchester United need to sort out their woes upfront
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Newcastle would have been subject to a bombardment of shots and crosses in the final quarter of an hour. But here, apart from the Javier Hernandez shot which Tim Krul saved heroically and a Smalling chance which hit the upright, there was nothing to suggest that United had a winner in them. The Newcastle performance was brave and stoic but this is a very ordinary side which should have been beaten by a team having title aspirations.
In his post match interview, Van Gaal said that he does not need another striker but deep down he must know that he needs one. What he also needs to do, is take another look at the players he has been playing in the 4-2-3-1.
Juan Mata is a fine player who is being underutilized on the right hand side. He is a number 10 who needs to be played centrally. Adnan Januzaj, on the other hand, does not have the experience to play in that role and should be pushed wider where he can use his pace.
Another possible solution could be to revert to the template which United used during March of last season when they probably played the best football in the Van Gaal era. Morgan Schneiderlin could play in front of the back four with 2 triangular formations on either side of him. On the left would be Shaw, Depay & Marouane Fellaini with Darmian, Mata & Ander Herrera on the right.
Whether he reorganizes his players and formation or goes shopping for new ones, Van Gaal needs to change the dynamics in his forward line.
Newcastle grind out a famous point
When you have lost all of your league matches away from home since February and are travelling to Manchester, a lot of fans can be expected to fear the worst. The way the Magpies started the game, with only the linesman flag saving them from going a goal down in the first four minutes, made it seem like a potential walloping was on the cards.
But after weathering the early storm, Newcastle grew into the match and could have taken the lead but for the frame of the goalpost to come to Manchester Uniteda s rescue following a magnificent header from Serbian Aleksander Mitrovic. They also had a chance to snatch an unlikely win at the death when Florian Thauvin narrowly failed to connect with Papiss Cissea s ball across the face of the goal.
But these chances aside, Newcastle looked solid and for this McClaren must be given due credit. Over the years, Newcastle sides have always been known for their flamboyance but rarely for their stubbornness when defending against superior opponents. If McClaren can keep captain Fabricio Coloccini fit, then a lot of sides are going to struggle to overcome this new found grit and determination.