Three Points: Wayne Rooney sparks Man United's dominance vs. Newcastle
MANCHESTER -- A trio of observations on Manchester United's 3-1 win against Newcastle in the Premier League on Boxing Day.
1. United roll back the years
Thrilling forward play and deadly counterattacks are what a younger generation of Manchester United fans were brought up on. If this season's Premier League title looks beyond Louis Van Gaal's team, Old Trafford is being presented with a vision of an imminent future in which their team might soon compete with Chelsea and Manchester City.
United have not lost at home since opening day, and while their defence continues to look far from safe, their scope of attacking options have the capability of killing opponents. Newcastle did not play especially badly, but after failing to take early chances, found themselves two goals behind. Wayne Rooney, withdrawn to midfield, scored both to make it 12 career strikes against a favourite opponent.
The captain also assisted a Robin Van Persie goal, as Van Gaal's superstar quartet of attackers made sweet music. Radamel Falcao's unorthodox running style has had some fans suggesting he is still carrying his knee injury, though a glance at YouTube highlights from his Porto and Atletico days would suggest he has always scampered like that.
Even though a goal to follow last week's equaliser at Villa Park did not come, this was his best showing as a United team member. He left the field in the 65th minute to considerable applause.
It was Falcao's unselfish volleyed cross that supplied Rooney for his first, perhaps United's most aesthetically pleasing goal of the season so far after a scything break from Rooney and midfielder Juan Mata had eaten up acres of Newcastle territory. For Rooney's second, it was a Falcao tackle that gave Mata the space and time to expertly slide in the skipper. The Spaniard, at one point linked with a move away after unhappy beginnings in Manchester, at last looks fully comfortable in a United shirt.
Falcao did not feature in United's third, though his movement took runners away from Van Persie, whose header from Rooney's cross gave underprotected Newcastle keeper Jak Alnwick little chance.
All three goals were of a type to make fans remember how it once felt to be United.
2. Play like Fergie's boys?
Sir Alex Ferguson himself was to be found paying pre-match tribute to Old Trafford's award-winning ground staff, to continue the public reappearance that saw him offer plaudits to Van Gaal last week.
Aside from Mata and Falcao, United's Boxing Day selection was a group all brought to the club during Ferguson's reign, though Paddy McNair was only just 18 when the Scot stepped down. Most of those bought in 2014's megabucks spree are missing, with the most expensive of all, Angel Di Maria, the latest to suffer a training injury.
The good news for United's casualty list is there will be no training session before Sunday's high noon trip to Tottenham; in his programme notes, Van Gaal outlined his belief that players require 48 hours' rest after playing. They will travel to White Hart Lane with just 43 in their legs for a fixture they have found tough of late.
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McNair, still not yet 20, was given considerable responsibility when asked to play at the centre of a back three on defence, a role vacated by Michael Carrick stepping farther forward to play as midfield anchorman. As a midfielder converted to a defender, Van Gaal trusted his poise on the ball.
Of Fergie's boys, Ashley Young is currently flowering in a fashion he did only in his early weeks as a United player. Playing left wing-back allows him a level of involvement he rarely enjoyed as a straight winger.
In the early moments, Young's right-foot crossing from his flank was United's best hope of success, though his inadequacies as a defender were shown off by his missing a tackle on Daryl Janmaat before the Dutchman forced a full-length save from De Gea. Minutes later, though, it was Young's awareness that robbed the same opponent; Van Gaal has found something in a player Ferguson struggled to get the best from.
3. Out of Toon
Six Newcastle wins in a row had been followed by four losses in succession, including the painful, punishing last-minute defeat to Sunderland last week. On such results does Pardew's shaky relationship with fans enter stony ground. Four successive defeats in the Tyne-Wear derby is uncharted territory for any Magpies manager, though there is still no second-guessing owner Mike Ashley.
Last December, Pardew could not contain his smiles after a first victory for Newcastle at Old Trafford since 1972, even while offering public support for embattled David Moyes. Back then, his team were reaching into Champions League territory. Now, Newcastle are in the mid-table morass that looks a limit of ambitions.
The fans at least had a local core to cheer; five Geordies in the starting lineup, no other club in the Premier League can call on such an indigenous group. A boisterous away support, playing away from St James' Park on Boxing Day for the 11th time in 13 years, were full of voice but left Manchester in disappointment. Papiss Cisse's late penalty provided a consolation cheer.
Adam Johnson's breakaway goal for Sunderland in last weekend's derby was mirrored by Manchester United's opener. Rooney, Mata and Falcao found great gaps after Adam Armstrong lost the ball, and Newcastle's previous good work was undone. Yoan Gouffran should have had a penalty when Mata tripped him, though it was probably his theatrics that jaundiced referee Mike Jones' view of the incident. Ayoze Perez was his lively self, but could only hit fresh air when a decent early chance presented itself.
Pardew followed the current vogue of a back three and found that a stretching of space allowed United's forwards space to charge through his midfield. Newcastle's best hopes lay with the powerful running of Sissoko, though the Frenchman is also his best midfield tackler. Newcastle looked uncomfortable in their new shape, and vulnerable, too. The manager had decided to try and turn the tide with a new approach, but the result of that was to leave an open book.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.