Breathless, invigorating and a little sharp: it was a story of a zero draw, fought under the bright autumn sun that Manchester United and Newcastle United will feel they should have won.
Erik ten Haag said his team wanted to tell the story of the game, but the visitors ensured they did not, and instead the charge was like basketball in a through-and-through nature that largely bypassed measured play in midfield. In the dying moments, Casemiro released Marcus Rashford, who beat Nick Pope, but the midfielder’s radar was off when he passed to Fred, a perfect summation of what was on show all day when Rashford somehow missed a header in added time.
The start of “Manchester United” was sharp. From afar, Fred pulled the trigger first, even though he aimed sideways. Lisandro Martinez deflects the ball from Miguel Almiron. The Reds pushed forward and Cristiano Ronaldo, who replaced the unseasonable Rashford, was troubled by Fabian Schar. Martinez showed even more verve as he covered Callum Wilson’s shot that was thwarted by David De Gea in his 500th appearance for United as he hoped to finish off Jacob Murphy’s cross.
Newcastle counterattacked soon after. Luke Shaw had to parry Kieran Tripper’s through ball which led to Joelinton’s corner from the left. Wilson had earlier screamed for a penalty when Raphael Varane tackled him, but Craig Pawson and VAR took no interest.
The rhythm of the competition was jab-jab, jab-jab; at one point Fred pounced on the ball from the left, at the next corner Trippier headed an unmarked ball in, and United needed to strengthen their defense from the dead ball.
Anthony, coming off a league-high three goals, made a familiar cut inside and exploded. It came after a clever no-look pass from Casemiro that sent Newcastle wide. There was some bracing muscularity, with Anthony crashing into Sven Botman, Joelinton and Casemiro bouncing off each other. The last scrum was awarded a free-kick for Newcastle – Trippier smashed it against the wall, the ball went back and Joelinton hit the post and De Gea’s right-hand post and Dalot missed another corner. Again United made it a second after Trippier’s strike, Wilson headed across goal.
Half was a constant incident-festival. Ten Haag reprimanded David Coote for some on-field offense that could have been influenced by the fourth official, Wilson tugged on Martinez’s arm and received a lecture from Pawson, and moments later the referee directed a battered Joelinton to be treated.
Casemiro’s errant pass then saw Almiron do Fred’s mug in place of the ill Christian Eriksen. Trippier cleverly flicked the dead ball high and United somehow stayed intact. Shots from Anthony and Bruno Fernandes, who also headed Pope, failed to clear the No. 22 goal.
Each team lacked ruthlessness and Ronaldo, strangely for a predator in chief, was often found offside or caught away from the forward line where he had the best chance to score goal number 701 of his club career. Wilson made more miscues to open the second half and when the Portuguese were in position to beat Pope, the shot was ruled offside. Taking the free-kick, Ronaldo, believing Schar had touched Pope, stole the ball and scored. Pawson warned the 37-year-old, deciding the ball was simply given to the keeper for him to execute.
Both United were unwilling – or unable – to slow down and move their opponents in a more chess-like fashion. So when Antony, Dalot, Fernandez, Fred and Shaw did that, suddenly Newcastle had another problem. The move failed, but it was a clue, perhaps, as to how the people of the Ten Hag might prosper.
At the hour mark, Manchester had 61.6% possession, but the old problem of being quick in the first place meant a surplus of ideas when most of Newcastle were in front of them. A lack of composure and composure was a fair characteristic of the fare after the break. Eddie Howe replaces Murphy with Ryan Fraser, so can Ten Hag reshuffle his pack? Yes: Ronaldo left, and Rashford entered.
The home side, however, remained sidelined in search of the final ball, epitomized by Anthony, who failed to pick out Jadon Sancho as he raced down the right. When Trippier did find Almiron with a low cross, the latter tipped over and later Rashford’s wild free-kick was another example of not aiming true.
All this meant that the proportion of points was just right.