All the pre-game talk surrounded the future of José Mourinho at Manchester United, for the best part of 70 minutes, it looked like Newcastle United were going to take full advantage, before finally falling to a 3-2 defeat.
Second half goals from Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sánchez, turned the whole mood around at Old Trafford and saw their Portuguese coach go from ‘dead man walking’ to having his name ring around the stadium..
Kenedy gave Rafa Benitez’s side the lead after just seven minutes. The Brazilian, on loan from Chelsea, was slipped in by Ayoze Pérez, he turned inside past Ashley Young before placing his left-foot shot beyond David De Gea.
Fed the ball at the edge of the box, he first turned onto his right, but beating Young and smashing a low finish past the Spain international.
After the break, United turned up the tempo and finally got a foothold in the game when Mata curled a beautiful free-back past Martin Dubravka.
Martial levelled the score when he found the bottom corner after good link-up play with Paul Pogba. Then it was left to Alexis to head in Ashley Young’s cross to give United a much-needed comeback win.
Here are five things we learned from Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Newcastle on Saturday night.
Step Forward Alexis Sánchez
On Saturday night, Manchester United needed a hero, with 24 minutes to go, Mourinho sent on Sánchez with the score 2-0 to Newcastle.
He touched the ball just 16 times, but managed two shots on target, one of them coming at the perfect moment.
It’s still difficult to see where the Chilean fits into this attack, but he is the perfect player to pop up with one moment of excellence. You have to carry him, he’s not going to drive your attack or be the focal point of this team, but games are won by moments.
José needed a hero and after a much-improved second half, the former Arsenal forward completed the come-back. Rather than sulking from being dropped out of the starting XI, the 29-year-old stepped up and showed his value.
Before the goal, you were left wondering what he added to the team, and that’s what he does best. Creating something from nothing and perhaps saving his manager’s job.
Signed in the summer, many believed it was time for Benitez to unleash the Japanese forward on to the Premier League and Muto didn’t disappoint.
His opening goal was brilliant, turning and twisting past Young before showing no signs of nerves in beating De Gea with his left-foot.
The 26-year-old could have added a second when his header was saved easily, a yard either side and it would have been 3-0 to the away side.
Playing his first 45 minutes of football in England, he showed exactly what he can offer. Rather than being conservative, he roamed the pitch, looking for pockets of space, as you can see by his first-half touch map below, via WhoScored.
We suggested it was time for Rafa to give Muto a chance, and with two shots on target, 33 touches and 19 passes in 77 minutes, it was a chance worth taking.
Newcastle left Old Trafford with no points and still in the relegation zone, but they showed enough to be positive and Muto did enough to keep his place in the starting XI.
Square pegs in round holes
Regardless of what team you are, if you continue to play players out of position, eventually you will get caught out.
Young has done well during his time at United, but mostly when on the front foot. Luke Shaw has taken his spot on left-back, so Mourinho has switched him to the right.
In the final third, he is a great asset and one of the only options who brings width down the channels. A great delivery from set-pieces and on the flank. Young can be an asset, as proven by his cross for the winning goal.
Yet, when asked to defend, as we saw on Saturday, he can be exposed. Both Kenedy and Muto turned the England international, and it seemed the experienced campaigner was unaware that either player preferred to play the ball with their left-foot.
The manager has to take the blame. A lack of preparation and a huge gamble to pick players in areas where they ultimately aren’t comfortable. United should have dropped points and better teams will continue to punish them if he continues down this road.
United need to push the tempo
It was the perfect example of the cliché, a game of two halves. United were laboured and dull in the first 45, but then they looked like the side of old, asking questions of the Newcastle defence before eventually finding the winner.
United used to be good at this, now, especially in the first-half, they look and feel cumbersome.
Part of the top sides hitting on the counter is pressing high, but this is an area where Mourinho’s men have regressed.
Last season, they were winning the ball in the attacking third 3.92 times per 90 minutes, which has dropped to 2.42. With the number in the defensive third increasing from 27.6 to 28.28 per 90.
In coming second last term, United were attempting 0.26 shots per 90 from fast breaks, which has fallen to 0.14 over the first seven games of this campaign.
The final result will mask quite a few problems for the home side, but until the defend from the front and hit teams on the break, the same problems are going to keep cropping up.
United are not dead, yet
If you are a fan of WWE from the 80s and 90s, you will know the scene well. Locked in a submission move, the referee will lift the downed wrestler’s arm, once, twice, if it drops a third time, the match is over.
2-0 down to Newcastle, the referee raised United’s arm for the last time, but after Mourinho’s half-time changes and three very important goals, their arm didn’t drop.
Finding the strength to mount a comeback, the crowd were fully behind them, and just like Hulk Hogan, you’re not sure how, but someone they found a way to win.
It was the perfect scenario for Mourinho. Now, they have a famous comeback win, they showed character on the pitch, they scrapped and fought, they played for their manager and they dug deep to win.
There is no way the people making the decisions up top can sack him now. We could look back in three months time with United in the top four and wonder why we ever doubted ‘The Special One’.