Paul Pogba superb on Man United comeback in rout of Newcastle
MANCHESTER, England -- Here are three points from Manchester United 4-1 Newcastle in the Premier League:
1. Manchester United back to winning ways
Jose Mourinho has carried the air of a man wondering what people are complaining about when questions about Manchester United's style of play have been raised this season. On this occasion he can be perfectly justified, after his team ran away with a convincing 4-1 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford.
Paul Pogba, making his return to the team after two months out with a hamstring injury, was the standout player, orchestrating his side's thumping victory, achieved after coming from behind in the first half. Dwight Gayle had given Newcastle the lead, before Pogba set up Anthony Martial for the equaliser and scored one goal himself, with Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku notching the other two.
As well as Pogba returning, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on the bench, his first appearance in a United squad since rupturing his cruciate ligament in last season's Europa League quarterfinal against Anderlecht. Marcos Rojo, who suffered the same injury in the same game, was also among the substitutes.
This was the first time that Marcus Rashford, Martial and Lukaku have started a game together, so it suggested an attacking lineup for United. But after a disjointed opening few minutes it was Newcastle that took the lead. DeAndre Yedlin did fine work down the right, reached the byline and cut it back to Gayle in the area, and he became the first opposition player to score in the league at Old Trafford this season as he guided his shot in off the post. Victor Lindelof continued his unconvincing start to life at United by slipping over and giving Gayle time to pick his spot, with a couple more Newcastle players queuing up if he didn't fancy it.
Initially, Newcastle looked the more potent side, going close once through Jacob Murphy and offering plenty of threat on the counterattack. United tried to chip away at the Newcastle defence, their attack switching positions as they attempted to locate the wit required to break through.
And nine minutes before the break, they did. Pogba, their most accomplished player in this and most other games he has played this season, shimmied and clipped over a perfect cross from the right, and Martial rose at the back post to head home.
United then took control, and just as injury-time at the end of the first half commenced, they went ahead. Ashley Young skimmed a cross from deep on the left to the far post, where Smalling evaded a pretty weak challenge from Florian Lejeune to head in. There was still time for Isaac Hayden to carve out and then miss a brilliant chance for Newcastle, but Mourinho's side went into the break ahead.
They increased their lead eight minutes after the break through a beautifully constructed goal. Lukaku crossed from the right, Rashford delicately cushioned a header into the 6-yard box and Pogba's perfectly timed run allowed him the simplest of finishes.
Pogba was taken off with about 20 minutes to go, his job very much done. Before disappearing down the tunnel he just had time to watch Lukaku end a domestic goal drought that stretched back to the end of September, launching the ball into the roof of the net after some limp defending by Newcastle.
All that remained was for Ibrahimovic to make his return, ahead of schedule, almost providing a classic moment of acrobatics with a flamboyant volley that Rob Elliot tipped wide of the post. After a few weeks of negativity, things are looking up for Pogba, Mourinho and United.
2. Pogba is back
Like the Grand Canyon, Pogba is one of those sights you have to see in person to fully appreciate. On TV you don't quite appreciate how rapidly he spreads the play from the middle of the pitch, the fizz he puts on those passes without ever over-hitting them.
It was interesting in this game to compare Pogba, operating as one of the deeper two midfielders, to the man playing in front of him. Juan Mata started in the No.10 role, the player who in theory dictates the pace of the game, but not on this occasion. Pogba was the man who ran things, zipping those passes right and left with intelligence and purpose.
Pogba has all of Mata's subtlety but possesses more urgency, much more pace to his passing. The Spaniard frequently slows play down; Pogba speeds it up and shifts it on. He sometimes tries ambitious things that don't come off, but he's right enough times to make up for those, and then some.
Pogba has only started five league games this season and has either set up or scored six goals, but that's almost a side-note, a minor part of how he helps this side. Last season he sometimes looked like a brilliantly talented individual the collective was struggling to accommodate; now he's the hub of the team. He slotted back into the side, after two months out, like the most perfect jigsaw puzzle piece.
If you were a fan of schadenfreude between 2012-2016, a fun game was to watch Pogba play for Juventus with a United fan, and see them weep for what could have been. Not now, though. If United are to challenge for the title, then Pogba's form will be key.
3. Toon finishing a concern for Benitez
There's little doubt that Rafa Benitez has done a fine job at Newcastle this season. He endured a calamitous summer transfer window in which most of his preferred targets were allowed to slip away in the name of parsimony from an owner looking to sell the club. There was even talk of him walking away, for which you would not have blamed him.
His side are 11th in the table with a group of players not significantly different to the ones that won promotion. Of the starting lineup here, nine were playing in the Championship last season, while Javier Manquillo might as well have been, turning out as he did for Sunderland.
Nevertheless, Newcastle do need to improve on one significant aspect if they are to stay where they are, and even improve on that. In the opening 20 minutes or so they were much the better team, and despite creating a few excellent chances, their finishing was worryingly awry.
Gayle's goal aside, they had trouble hitting the target and when they did, they didn't make David de Gea's life hard enough. The most obvious example came just before United's second, when Hayden did brilliantly to weave his way to the edge of the 6-yard box, before scuffing a weak effort straight at de Gea.
Newcastle only have 12 goals to their name from 12 games this season; not a calamitous number, but their finishing must improve if they're to achieve much.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.