Despite failing to start a Premier League season with three wins in a row, which United last achieved in 2011/12, they could take plenty of heart from a positive performance in front of their own fans.
It could have been a different story had Wayne Rooney’s third-minute goal not been ruled out for a marginal offside call.
Three games into the new season, the most encouraging part for Manchester United is that they have not conceded a goal even with David de Gea sitting in the stands, wishing for the day presumably when Old Trafford did not feel like a five-star prison and he could finally wear Real Madrid’s colours. Yet this was a difficult and exasperating afternoon for Louis van Gaal’s team and their shortcomings will only add to the theory that they lack the firepower to be authentic title challengers.
Those flaws have become a recurring theme on Van Gaal’s watch and – an easy line, perhaps – they could certainly have done with Pedro’s penetrative qualities as they desperately sought to unlock Newcastle’s obstinate defence. Van Gaal’s men played every pass apart from the killer one. Their lack of incision must have been startling for a crowd imploring “attack, attack, attack” and if Kyle Walker’s own goal on the opening weekend were excluded, Adnan Januzaj’s winning strike at Aston Villa is the only time they have beaten the opposition goalkeeper.
This is only the third time that the Red Devils have started a Premier League season with three successive clean sheets, having done so in 1997/98 and 2005/06.
Okay, they might have finished second in both of those seasons, but solidity at the back can allow United to build a solid platform as they look to put the finishing touches to the attack.
These clean sheets have been achieved without want away player of the year David de Gea as well, and Sergio Romero has become the first goalkeeper since David Ospina to keep a clean sheet in each of his first three Premier League games.
As for questions about Wayne Rooney’s listless form, Van Gaal insisted his captain had scored a perfectly legitimate goal, arguing that there should be more technology available for the referee and his assistants. The strangest part was that his analysis came after watching the slow-motion replays. The freeze-frame pictures demonstrated the offside decision was marginal, yet correct.
Rooney had little joy against Newcastle’s centre-halves, Fabricio Colocinni and Steven Taylor, both of whom were excellent, and was eventually moved back into his old No 10 role so Javier Hernández could take over as the principal point of attack. Newcastle defended with great togetherness once they had recovered from an opening 20-minute blitz and, in the process, they ended their run of seven successive away defeats. Their improvement under Steve McClaren – or, to put it another way, without John Carver – already looks considerable and, having survived the early onslaught, they maybe deserved the touch of fortune when Chris Smalling’s header came back off the post in stoppage time.
It’s been a lacklustre start to the season for Wayne Rooney, with the manager jumping to the defence of his striker earlier this week after a goalless start to the season for the England captain.
While he might not have been back to his best against Newcastle United, he did have more than one shot on target for only the second time in his 21 Premier League appearances in 2015.
Rooney looked brighter when he moved deeper, playing behind substitute Javier Hernandez, and there were signs that he could be close to ending his 858 minute goal drought for United.
A goal at that stage would have been incredibly harsh on the home side bearing in mind the spells of almost relentless pressure on Krul’s goal and the fact they accumulated more shots on target inside the opening 20 minutes than their first two games against Spurs and Villa combined. In the second half, however, their passing was too often sideways and we were reminded, on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s first start, that the German’s brain works faster than his legs.
This team finished last season with 62 goals, their second-lowest total of the Premier League era, and two fewer than the previous year under David Moyes. Defensively, they have got it right but championships are not won with such mundane scoring figures.