Manchester United fans must have been fearing the worst when Luke Shaw diverted Emil Krafth’s cross into his own net after only two minutes at St James’ Park. It seemed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had picked up where they left off against Tottenham.
The defending in the build-up to the goal was certainly reminiscent of that 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford. Thankfully for Manchester United, however, the parallels ended there. They had to wait until the 86th minute to move in front, but in the end the victory was emphatic and well deserved.
Solskjaer, under pressure after United’s joint-worst defeat of the Premier League era, made five changes from the side thrashed by Spurs and most of the focus ahead of kick-off fell on the players left out. Paul Pogba was the most high-profile to lose his spot. There was no place in the side for Donny van de Beek or Alex Telles either.
But it was one of the players who came into the side who made the biggest impact on the game. Juan Mata had not played a single minute of Manchester United’s first three Premier League fixtures this season. In fact, he had not made a single start in the competition since February.
On this evidence, however, the 32-year-old still has plenty to offer.
Mata was not among the scorers at St James’ Park – those were Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford – but United’s best attacking performance in months owed more to him than anyone else. The Spaniard was outstanding from start to finish.
Mata lined up on the right-hand side of United’s attack, the position occupied by Mason Greenwood against Spurs, but his interpretation of the role was very different. What he lacks in pace and power, he makes up for in vision and imagination.