Wednesday night saw Manchester United make their first appearance in the Capital One Cup, facing off against Alan Pardew’s Newcastle side. Thoughts prior to the game centred around who would be starting and taking places on the bench, with Sir Alex Ferguson traditionally using the competition as the stage in which he could introduce some young and promising talent. There was also speculation as to which senior players would get the chance to impress, with Rooney rumoured to be back from injury and Darren Fletcher making his first appearance in many months before. Coming up against a side such as Newcastle meant that some experienced names were to be expected as well as providing a strong challenge for the younger members of the squad.
David De Gea returned to the side after being on the bench for the game at Anfield. The back four was full of youthful names, with Buttner being the oldest at left back. In the centre, stood Scott Wootton and Michael Keane. At right back, Marnick Vermijl was given a chance to impress. The midfield looked far more familiar, with Tom Cleverley, captain Darren Fletcher and Anderson. Up front saw Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez collectively leading the line.
The opening exchanges saw the visitors looking to cause trouble for United’s youthful back line, getting the ball forward and using the aerial threat. The home side were able to hold off their advances in the early stages of the game, and soon found their way forward, using the midfield to good effect and showing creativity going forward. Wayne Rooney dropped deep and to help control the midfield and play the ball forward to good effect. He looked for a penalty with quarter of an hour played, but the referee rightly waved away his appeal with no hesitation. United used the width, with Vermijl getting forward and being used, and good link up play producing opportunities, while Newcastle themselves were not without their own chances when they got forward. However, Ferguson’s men were getting the better of the possession in the first half, and nearly made it 1-0, when Hernandez did well to beat his defender after Welbeck played him in, passing out to Cleverley who had only the ‘keeper to beat, only to put the ball wide as the crowd thought he had scored. 35 minutes in and goalless.
With minutes remaining in the first half though, United made the breakthrough, as Anderson made a strong run outside the box, across and beating his man to hit a sweet left footed shot that went in off the post. 1-0, the score going in at half time.
The second half started with United picking up where they left off, Rooney involved in play getting forward, linking with Vermijl early on. Newcastle themselves looked for a way back into it, coming close twice within a short space of time through Marveaux and Vuckic. However, with just over 12 minutes played, United doubled their lead, Tom Cleverley making up for his earlier miss, by getting a shot away after some passing just on the edge of the box, finishing precisely to score his first goal of his United career.
Newcastle responded by bringing on Cisse and Ferguson and there was an immediate impact, with both combining to good effect as Ferguson played in a superb cross that found Cisse without a marker to slip in and get a goal back. Game on. From there, the visitors started to see more of the ball and were taking control of the game as they looked to equalise by exploiting the inexperienced back line. Cisse came close in spectacular fashion, showing nice control with his back to goal to hit an overhead kick that came crashing off the bar. It was a big moment in a second half that could be described as tense for United fans as the home side resisted the attacks and saw out the game 2-1 to progress to the next round where they will face Chelsea away.
With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Wayne Rooney – looking leaner
With questions over his form at the start of the season and queries about his weight, one could not help but be intrigued as to what would be seen from Rooney on his return to the side. The Rooney that lined up against Newcastle certainly looked like he had spent his time away from the pitch getting fitter and it showed on the pitch as well, with arguably one of the best performances on the night. He may not have been on the score-sheet but one cannot deny his influence on the game, dropping deep and playing some great passes to get forward. He looked energetic and one hopes that this will continue into the coming weeks.
2) Darren Fletcher – Great to see him start
First fans saw him come off the bench to rapturous applause and Wednesday night saw Darren Fletcher back for his first start since returning from illness to captain the side. Despite showing the inevitable signs of rust, it was still inspirational to see the Scottish midfielder fight back from chronic illness and return to the football pitch. Better yet, he performed well, helping to take control of the midfield and showing good fitness given his time away from the game. He put in a strong effort in contributing to the side and was effective in doing so. It is hard to tell how often Fletcher will be seen this season, it all rather depending how well his illness can be kept under control without flare ups, but the more games he is available, the better as he provides a useful option in the centre of the park.
3) A youthful back four – well tested
When the starting line up was announced, it was clear that the defence would be in for a stern test against a good Newcastle side, who themselves played some younger members of their squad. Inevitably, the visitors got forward and showed their strength, particularly in the air and had opportunities to score in both halves. It was a risk, but one that could only have been of benefit to them, win or lose unless they took something of a beating and conceded many goals. It gave them a chance to try and come up against Premier League opposition and gave them a lesson in what they could expect. Towards the end, the more experienced members of the side dropped back to help them out as they tried to prevent a Newcastle equaliser and were able to do so. Wootton and Keane certainly impressed given the calibre of players they were up against, with strong players such as Ameobi being tough to deal with.
However, one must ask, with injuries aplenty to the back line at present, and Vidic now ruled out for two months, was this game a test to see whether these players could be used if injury continues to hamper the defence? It is no secret that there is a big list of unavailable defenders at present and one must wonder whether or not the youthful talent will be utilised if any more problems arise.
4) Javier Hernandez impressing out wide
Last season was a difficult one for the Mexican striker. He struggled to have the same impact he had in his debut but at the start of this campaign he has shown some improvement. The main issue has been at times when he was up front on his own, he becomes lost if United were not getting the ball forward and he effectively became anonymous. So far, he seems to have been involved in play more, perhaps due to a slightly different positioning and against Newcastle he was very active getting forward, showing good pace out wide and playing good passes in, the highlight of which when his play allowed Cleverley a golden opportunity to score the opening goal in the first half.
5) Home grown talent and the story of Tunnicliffe
With constant concerns regarding the lack of home grown talent and the need to promote them to play at the highest level, fans could have reason to be proud that so many graduates of the youth system were playing at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. Established players such as Danny Welbeck lined up alongside the likes of Keane, Tunnicliffe and Wootton to showcase their talents and give fans a glimpse of the potential that could be regularly lining up for United in the future.
One player in particular had a story to his name, that of Ryan Tunnicliffe. With the youngster sat on the bench, it came time for him to warm up and get ready to take his place on the pitch. Sat in the stands was his father, who, when his son was age 9, placed a £100 bet that his son would be playing in the United first team. And on Wednesday, that investment blossomed to the tune of £10,000 as his son took his first steps on to the pitch at Old Trafford in a competitive game. As the smile showed across his father’s face, one hoped that he was happy at seeing Ryan on such a big stage rather than the monetary reward he had just made. A story of belief and foresight of his child’s talent.