COVID-19 concerns, Joelinton shows up Ronaldo and more frustration: Five key takeaways from Newcastle United 1-1 Manchester United
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Allan Saint-Maximin gave Newcastle an early lead before substitute Edinson Cavani equalised with 19 minutes remaining.
The result leaves The Magpies 19th in the Premier League table on 11 points.
And here are Dominic Scurr’s five key takeaways from the match…
COVID-19 concerns confirmed
Eddie Howe was forced to make six changes from the side that lost 4-0 to Manchester City before Christmas. Emil Krafth, Fabian Schar, Javier Manquillo, Jonjo Shelvey, Allan Saint-Maximin and Sean Longstaff all came into the side. Jacob Murphy and Miguel Almiron dropped to the bench while Matt Ritchie, Isaac Hayden, Ciaran Clark and Joe Willock dropped out entirely.
Howe confirmed Newcastle’s absences were due to a mixture of injuries and COVID-19 cases in the squad.
Ahead of the game, The Magpies boss told Sky Sports: "Difficult in the preparation. We have a mixture of injuries and Covid cases.
"The squad is stretched. But we’re making the best of the situation. We want to play. We have had an eight-day gap, so I’m looking for energy and intensity in our play. We should have no excuses in delivering a physical performance.”
As a result, Newcastle weren’t able to name a full bench which included two goalkeepers (Mark Gillespie and Freddie Woodman) as well as two under-23s players (Elliot Anderson and Joe White).
But that didn’t stop them putting in a strong performance against a Man United side who hadn’t played a competitive match in over two weeks.
Off to a flyer
Just like they did at Liverpool 11 days prior, Newcastle took the lead in the seventh minute.
Some fine midfield work from Sean Longstaff won possession and set-up Saint-Maximin to cut onto his right foot and curl the ball emphatically into the right side of the goal to give The Magpies the lead.
It set the tone for a lively display from the Frenchman, who seemed back to his persistently threatening albeit slightly frustrating best after a quiet few weeks.
Unlike their performance at Anfield, Newcastle didn’t allow their opponents to quickly get back into the game, they continued to pile the pressure on Man United.
Quick closing down, dominating the midfield and transitioning with pace allowed Howe’s side to pose a sustained threat without forcing too many saves from David De Gea in the opening exchanges.
Shelvey burst from midfield to force a decent stop from the Spanish goalkeeper and Callum Wilson had a goal ruled out for offside but that’s as close as The Magpies came to extending their lead in the first half.
Scoring the opening goal isn’t exactly a good omen for Newcastle, who had dropped more points from winning positions than any other Premier League side this season.
A record that would unfortunately be extended further after the break
The turning point?
Newcastle continued to pose a threat after the restart.
Krafth’s low ball across the face of goal was met by Saint-Maximin just yards out only for De Gea to somehow claw the effort away and keep the score at 1-0.
It was a golden opportunity to double the lead for the hosts and one that would have put them well on their way to securing only their second win of the season.
Unfortunately the chance went begging and The Red Devils remained in the match.
Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser had further chances to extend the lead before Cavani levelled.
The Uruguayan was unmarked in the penalty area when his first effort on goal was blocked but he was quick to react and poke the ball into the bottom right corner at the second attempt.
And with 19 minutes remaining, it was back to all square.
One number 7 steals the show
On the night Cristiano Ronaldo returned to St James’s Park for the first time since 2009, it was his opposite number Joelinton who stole the show while the Portuguese superstar was left frustrated.
At this point, every Newcastle fan is aware of the improvement Joelinton has made under Howe. It has been dramatic and obvious but we’ve passed the stage where there’s even a tongue in cheek element when assessing the Brazilian’s performances any more – he has genuinely transformed into a midfield powerhouse.
Comparisons with legends of the game like Claude Makelele and Zinedine Zidane were more accurate than ironic based on Monday night’s showing as he bossed the likes of Fred, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes out of the game while also being a threat bursting forward from the midfield. Casually nutmegging Marcus Rashford was the cherry on top of another very impressive display from the 25-year-old, who is quickly becoming the box-to-box midfielder Newcastle have been longing for since Mohamed Diame’s departure in 2019.
Two points dropped
The right post and more heroics from De Gea to deny Jacob Murphy and Miguel Almiron respectively saw the match end 1-1.
Newcastle had caught Manchester United on a real off day while simultaneously putting in one of their strongest displays of the season – yet they had to settle for a point.
It’s now 19 points dropped from winning positions this season. An additional 19 points would see The Magpies in fifth position and three points clear of Manchester United.
While the performance was impressive, the sense of frustration at full time was hard to ignore especially given the further player availability concerns.
Top scorer Callum Wilson went off with a ‘serious’ calf injury while Saint-Maximin was withdrawn with a calf issue that could potentially keep him out for the next few matches, Ryan Fraser is also a concern. At least the transfer window is just around the corner.
A booking for Javier Manquillo also means he’ll miss the next match through suspension, raising questions over whether The Magpies will be able to field a full side against Everton on Thursday.