By common consensus, if Manchester United had opened up a 9 point lead by Tuesday night, the title race would have been as good as over.
As things stand, Mourinho now has a lead of only 7 points to haul back, and a win against Aston Villa tonight should bring them back to a four point deficit and with Manchester United still to play away to their 3 major rivals (plus Tottenham as well), the title race is still pretty close.
The credit for Newcastle’s effort yesterday goes to Edgar, to Milner, to Solano, to Taylor, to Given and to Parker. But like it or not, this was a largely under-performing Manchester United side that went up against a Newcastle team kicking and fighting with their backs to the wall. Paul Scholes (and some trickery from Ronaldo) apart, United lacked their killer instinct, and with Saha getting injured early on, United were forced to rely on Giggs and Ronaldo to provide support to Rooney instead of Solskjaer, Smith or Rossi.
Saha is said to be out for 2 weeks, although it could be less or more depending on a proper analysis of his injury today. His absence combined with the lack of form of Wayne Rooney means that Manchester United will heavily rely on Rossi, Solskjaer and Larsson to bring in the goals for them in the next few matches.
Larsson is expected to be a substitute, so it all comes down to a choice between Rossi and Solskjaer. Ole has the better footballing brain and an uncanny ability to pop up at the right place at the right time, but you can’t doub Rossi’s pace and his willingness to get stuck into the defence despite his small frame. Rossi at home, Solskjaer away, but we’re not buying a new striker so maybe Ronaldo will be pushed up to support Rooney.
Carrick was missed yesterday, although he did eventually come on to replace Fletcher it was a bit late by then. Carrick is very under-rated in the team – he’s expected to be the hard-tackling Keano clone but instead he’s capable of being the playmaker we’ve been looking for to succeed Scholes. He’s not afraid to tackle either, as recent matches have shown, so it’s all about giving him more games and watching him grow as a player.
Would Hargreaves have helped yesterday? I don’t think Hargreaves would have allowed Milner to get away his shot like Fletcher did.
Would Torres or Defoe have helped yesterday? As a replacement for Saha, you’d think United could have scored the winning goal.
But none of this would have mattered if Ronaldo had played better, if Rooney had been better, if Park had put away his chance and if Giggsy had supported Scholesy’s efforts better.
And that’s the bottom line – if Manchester United want to win the Premiership, they’ll have to play a lot better.