Wednesday night, Manchester United took on Newcastle at Tyneside, and bagged all the three points after a smash-and-grab victory in the final minute. Here are four key points from the game.
The fighting spirit isn't dead
Over the past 25 years, Manchester United fans have been used to celebrating late winners. From Steve Bruce' turnaround brace in '93 against Sheffield Wednesday, via Ole Gunnar Solskjær's Champions League final decider in '99 and John O'Shea's winner at Anfield in '07 to Michael Owen's 96th-minute knock out on Manchester City in '09. The late goals have been a crucial part of the Sir Alex Ferguson era trademark.
During David Moyes' failed tenure, the trademark faded quicker than anyone could spell disappointment. In a sharp contrast to the europhin-trigging winners from his predecessor's reign, United either rolled over and got hammered, like against the painful spring losses against Manchester City or Liverpool, or let the opposition get the final punch towards the end of the game, like the 1-0 home losses against Everton and Newcastle in quick succession before Christmas. And a rare occasion of United actually pushing on to get that late winner, against Fulham away, turned into Darren Bent counterweighting what was supposed to be Michael Carrick's 80-minute «winner.»
Louis van Gaal has, nonetheless, restored some of the fighting spirit and we'll never die-mentality at Manchester United. Robin van Persie's equaliser against Chelsea can't be omitted, Daley Blind bagged last gasp equalisers against West Bromwich and West Ham, and Wednesday night, Ashley Young signed, sealed and delivered the victory in the final minute against Newcastle. This is a good sign for anybody with sympathies for the Red Devils.
Giggs' mask probably slipped
A lot has been said about the Class of 92 in the recent couple of years, with some retirements, the Class of 92 film and Giggs becoming the caretaker manager as the most noticeable incidents. How they were about born and bred at Manchester United and love the club to the fingertips. I don't know they, or in this particular case Giggs, love(s) Manchester United, but the look on his face after Ashley Young's winner spoke volumes. You'd probably expect him to run around like a madman, maybe even pull off his shirt like after his goal against Arsenal in '99. He did not. In fact, he didn't even smile, and looked more like there was Ayoze Perez or somebody who had scored the winner at the other end. In other words, Giggs is not happy about what's going on at United.
This does make sense on more levels too. United haven't been playing the way Giggs is used to, we're fighting for a top four spot and not for winning the league, and the Welshman was omitted for the manager's seat for the guy who's now in charge of the business. And Giggs wanting to be the gaffer himself is hardly news to anybody who saw him as a caretaker last season. Good news? Probably not.
Ashley Young's turning point?
The England international has received tons of stick, probably more than anyone, from United fans after his transfer from Aston Villa in 2011. Mediocre performances have been offloaded by the occasional embarrassing, exaggerated dive, he has looked short on confidence, not being exploiting his pace and the crosses have usually been haunted by lack of accuracy and mendace. He hasn't really been up to United's standards.
Nonetheless, despite United's generally poor displays this season, Louis van Gaal's tenure has been some sort of a resurrection for the former Watford man. Contrary to past season, he has been missed whilst being ruled out through injury, and he has usually delivered the goods from his left wing back position. In recent weeks, he has started to deliver from his favoured left win position as well. Additionally, in times where footballers usually get paid and don't care, Young has been spotted on several occasions in the away end when United have been on the road and he hasn't been in the squad himself. Bouncing back, playing (reasonably, he's still not exactly Ronaldo) well and getting along with the fans? Do we see the outlines of a potential fans' favourite here?
In recent games, Van Gaal has binned both the five-man back-line and the midfield diamond, and opted for a more familiar system at Old Trafford. Four at the back, two wide men and a player somewhere in between the midfield and the lone front man. This is what United are used to - and it pays off.
The system offers more menace in wide areas, as the full backs are able to overlap the winger, and this makes United put the opposition under a pressure we haven't seen in other systems applied this campaign. Hopefully, United stick to this system and exploit it to get a decent run, as we're on the door steps of the squeaky bum time.
Additionally, and I don't even bother make this an independent point, this system makes it even more reasonable to have Rooney deployed as a traditional number nine role, eventually just a bit off his striking comrade, as a number ten.