Prior to last weekend, the last time Newcastle United won a league game at Old Trafford, the mobile phone had yet to be invented, the Sydney Opera House was over 18 months away from completion and it would be over 5 years before current Tottenham head coach André Villas-Boas was born. The Magpies entered the fixture in 1972 on the back of a disappointing FA Cup exit to Hereford United, yet one week later were celebrating a famous 2-0 win over Manchester United.
Fast forward to the present day and last Saturday Newcastle fans expressed their jubilation on the back of a memorable 1-0 win over the Premier League champions courtesy of Yohan Cabaye's second half strike. The Frenchman found himself unmarked as he met Moussa Sissoko's pull-back before nestling his low drive into the bottom corner to ensure the Magpies returned to winning ways after their 3-0 humbling at the hands of Swansea in the previous game.
The midfielder earned the plaudits for his eventual winner, but much of their success in the encounter and over the season has been down to their 2 marauding full-backs, Mathieu Debuchy and Davide Santon. The latter was awarded the WhoScored man of the match award with a rating of 8.3 in the victory, while the former wasn't far behind having scored an 8.1.
Debuchy, having signed from Lille a little under 12 months ago, initially took time to adjust to his new surroundings, but has begun this campaign superbly, with his average rating of 7.46 meaning he's part of the current WhoScored Premier League team of the season. That's a significant mark up on the 6.83 he attained last term with the Magpies as he exhibits the credentials that had won him the move in the first place.
The 28-year-old has begun to live up to the expectations of those associated with the club, despite Newcastle being tipped to underperform this campaign. The Magpies sit only 3 points off Manchester City in 4th as the season enters a hectic festive period and much of that has been down to the exploits of Debuchy and youngster Santon.
Debuchy has already picked up 3 WhoScored man of the match awards this season as a result of his formidable displays in the Newcastle backline. His defensive awareness and speed is best showcased in the 3 last man tackles he has made, a tally that no player in the Premier League has topped.
With the right-back averaging 3.2 tackles per game, only Cheick Tioté (3.8) is performing better in that respect for Newcastle, and Debuchy has thus developed a WhoScored strength of 'tackling'. However, what is perhaps a flaw of his game is his recklessness in the challenge, having been made to sit out the 2-1 win over Norwich as a result of suspension after picking up 5 yellow cards already.
Committing an average of 1.6 fouls per game, only Tioté (2.2) and Shola Ameobi (1.8) are making more for the Magpies. While this can add further pressure to the defence at set-pieces and increase the likelihood of him being carded, it does aid in disrupting the attacking rhythm of the opposition and allow the Newcastle defence to reorganise accordingly, as they did effectively on Saturday.
Santon, who like Debuchy took time to settle initially following his arrival, has also started the campaign impressively. Perhaps the exploits of his fellow Newcastle full-back means he hasn't featured as heavily in the limelight, but he is still deserving of praise.
Marcello Lippi said of the 22-year-old in 2009 that he "reminds me of a young Paolo Maldini", so it was considered somewhat a shock that he moved to Newcastle in 2011. With an average rating of 7.28 this term, only Debuchy (7.46) and Cabaye (7.3) have performed better than Santon of every Newcastle player and he's at last showcasing his ability to the Premier League.
While the Italian isn't averaging as many tackles (1.6) as Debuchy, Santon's still a crucial member of the Magpies first team. This was perhaps best exhibited in the 1-0 win over United, where the duo excelled. Manager Alan Pardew may have moved away from the 4-4-2 he's favoured in recent weeks, but in introducing Vernon Anita at the expense of Shola Ameobi, this saw the Magpies pack the midfield.
Crucially, however, it allowed Debuchy and Santon to push forward and provide the necessary width for a compact Newcastle side, evidenced in that 74% of their attacking touches in the fixture came down the flanks. The average positions of the duo highlight how far up the pitch both players operated throughout the encounter and their importance in providing an offensive outlet in the hard-fought victory.
This is further accentuated in the 8 successful dribbles and 8 attempted crosses between the two, while making a total of 8 tackles and 7 interceptions over the 90 minutes certainly contributed to securing a clean sheet. With the tough-tackling personnel available to Pardew, he can afford to deploy Anita, Sissoko and Tioté, which allows Debuchy and Santon to press higher up the pitch.
Evidently, the gameplan worked against a lacklustre United side, whilst also bringing out the best in Debuchy and Santon. The duo have emerged as two of Newcastle's most important players and Pardew deserves credit for harnessing their ability to its full potential as the Magpies already sit only 15 points off last season's total.
All statistics courtesy of www.whoscored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.