Rooney fireworks fail to stop another United collapse
It should have been remembered as the moment when Wayne Rooney really stepped up and dragged Louis van Gaal through his roughest spell as Manchester United manager. Instead it could go down as the moment when the Red Devils' weak underbelly was fully exposed for all to see in a true Premier League classic.
The United captain was in excellent form up top in the visit to Newcastle. He bagged a ninth-minute penalty, superbly teed up Jesse Lingard for a second and then, after seeing his side throw away a two-goal lead, he delivered a belting finish to put United back in the ascendancy. For a player who has been in a serious slumber in 2015-16, this was a window into a world which many believed to have long passed.
Yet van Gaal and his side will travel back to Manchester having allowed Newcastle to record a 3-3 draw that should never have been in its grasp. The Dutchman has been given plenty of cause to be proud of his team's defensive record this season but the way in which it collapsed on Tuesday exemplified how numbers can belie the reality at times.
"I am very disappointed, but we have to blame ourselves because we could have finished this match much earlier," van Gaal admitted after the match. "There were big chances for (Jesse) Lingard and (Marouane) Fellaini and we didn't do that. I have said that also to my players."
When United has been attacked this season, it has been vulnerable. The likes of Arsenal, Bournemouth, Southampton, Swansea City, Wolfsburg and now Newcastle have all now had some measure of success from really getting at the club's backline.
And it turns out that the same defense which has recorded 16 clean sheets in 32 games this season is still the one which looked incredibly weak on paper at the start of the campaign. Georginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Perez all found it far too easy to pick holes in United's defensive shape and -- in the channels, particularly -- they looked incredibly weak.
"The referee makes a decision on a penalty that maybe has a big question mark over it, but we could have finished the game by ourselves much earlier," van Gaal told reporters after the match. "There was the deflected shot from Dummett to equalise, but okay, that is happening and that is luck for Newcastle United. But you have to force the luck and finish the chances when you get them when they are so big."
When the trophies and Champions League places are handed out at the end of the season, it may well be nights like this which cost United dear. Rooney can deliver all the flashbacks to his youth that he wishes but, if his teammates continue to give up space and time in their defensive third, then it will all be for nothing.
Information from FOXSoccer.com's newswire services were used in this report.