Manchester United make the best start in Newcastle since Raiders of the Lost Ark was on at the Tyneside Cinema and ease to a 3-0 win
Preamble: "We have real strength in our attacking options," said Sir Alex Ferguson this week. He's not lying. Only Manchester City and Chelsea have scored more than United so far this season, and they've both played a game more. Their attacking might is not in doubt, but it's their strength at the other end that is open to question. The only side that United have kept out in the Premier League this season is Wigan, who have started the campaign in pretty ordinary fashion and are among the division's lowest scorers thus far. It is, stats boffins tell me, United's worst defensive start to a season in a decade.
Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and a central midfield as porous as limestone have born the brunt of the blame, but the fading powers of Ferdinand and Evra in the back four can't be ignored, nor can the absence of Nemanja Vidic. Jonny Evans still gives the impression that he will eventually find a home away from Old Trafford, a la Wes Brown and John O'Shea. Newcastle certainly have the dynamism to test United here, though they share the visitors' defensive vulnerability.
History give us further hope for a goal-filled funfest. Newcastle, of course, won 3-0 in this fixture last season and since the turn of the century we've had a 4-3, a 6-2, a 4-1 and a 5-1 in matches between these sides at St James's Park. And who could forget that wonderful 7-3 home win in 1960?
Soooooo, all signs point to goals, goals, goals, goals, goals, goals. Which is rather marvelous news. And also means we're most likely in for a dour 0-0, damn law of the sod and all.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Santon, Williamson, Perch, Ferguson; Ben Arfa, Tioté, Cabaye, Gutiérrez; Ba, Cissé
Subs: Alnwick, Simpson, Anita, Bigirimana, Obertan, Sammy Ameobi, Shola Ameobi
Manchester United: (um, 4-2-something-diddly-bong-whoops): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Kagawa, Rooney, van Persie, Welbeck. Subs: Lindegaard, Scholes, Valencia, Anderson, Giggs, Hernandez, Wootton.
So United opt for De Gea rather than Lindegaard in goal. And quite how their front four will fit together is anyone's guess. Welbeck wide right, perhaps? For the home side, Coloccini has failed to recover from a hamstring problem so James Perch comes into the centre of defence. The 21-year-old Shane Ferguson makes a fourth league start at left-back.
Tactics truck: "Looks like Fergie is opting for the 4-2-1-3 that was used in the first match against Everton," writes Paul Bergin. "Since he's given up on protecting his defense you can take it that there will be goals today, though if Tioté takes out Kagawa then the front three are going to struggle to get much of the ball."
Sutton and Shearer, Bright and Wright, Deane and Agana … British football has seen some great strike duos over the years. Ba and Cissé have all the makings of another. Rooney and Van Persie? They've become the autumn 2012 Gerrard and Lampard. Unlike that pair, however, you feel success is just a matter of time for United's front two.
United have named a "heavily offensive" line-up, says Alan Pardew. [INSERT YOUR OWN HOMONYMIC GAG HERE]
Click-clack, click-clack … the teams are in the tunnel. Van Persie and Cissé the last players out for their respective sides.
PEEP! After a good old blast of Mark Knopfler, Newcastle get the match underway.
1 min: Welbeck seems to have started down the United left, with Kagawa wide on the right.
2 min: Rafael gets a soupçon of space down the right, but Ferguson is out quickly to smash the ball away once the Brazilian's touch gets a little loose.
3 min: Kagawa wriggles to the byline and wins a corner …
4 min: … half-cleared but Rooney picks up the loose ball, United feed the ball back into the box, Evans back-heels very smartly to Welbeck, whose shot is day-old-kitten weak.
5 min: Newcastle have barely touched the ball thus far. Our stats record 87% possession for the visiting side in the opening five minutes.
7 min: Carrick dinks the ball into the channel to find the onrushing Van Persie, who does very well to squeeze a shot off. Corner …
GOAL!!! Newcastle 0-1 Manchester United (Evans 8) … powered home by Evans! The United centre-half lost Williamson, soared highest in the box and powered a fantastic, thumping header past Harper in the Newcastle goal.
9 min: Newcastle really haven't had their Weetabix here. Ben Arfa tries to gets something going with a fleet-footed dance down the right.
10 min: Manchester United are a whisker away from a second goal. Van Persie flicks the ball down the right to send Rafael scurrying away like a mad ferret. His fizzing early drive zips just wide of Harper's post.
12 min: Holy moly, Steve Harper has nearly gifted United their second. In a presentation box, complete with ribbons, bow and gift receipt should they want to return it. He dallies over a backpass, allows Welbeck to close him down but holds on to the ball desperately. Welbeck eventually nips it off him, but his shot – from an angle – is dragged wide with the goal gaping. A little inside pass to Van Persie would've given the Dutchman a tap-in.
14 min: "Danny Welbeck is the new Paulo Wanchope," reckons Mark Judd, somehow managing to be harsh on both players. United have a dangerous free-kick here after Tiote trips Cleverly. Rooney strikes it, but Harper gets across to tip wide. Corner …
GOAL!!! Newcastle United 0-2 Manchester United (Evra 15) Another corner, another goal. And this time it's little Patrice Evra with the header! It's more slack marking from Newcastle as the left-back zips across the box and gets to the near-post corner first, glancing home powerfully past Harper.
17 min: Newcastle finally get into the Manchester United box. The ball drops loose to Gutierrez, whose drilled effort flies narrowly wide.
19 min: Louise Gill writes to point out an "outrageous" Tiote challenge on Cleverley in the opening minutes. Indeed, he was a a touch fortunate to escape with nothing more than a ticking off.
20 min: This has been the best start seen in Newcastle since Raiders of the Lost Ark was on at the Tyneside Cinema. Still, the home side are beginning to rub the sleep from their eyes and, while they're perhaps not fully awake, at least they're heading in the direction of the kettle in their dressing gown. De Gea watches a cross go far too deep.
23 min: Santon gets a yard of space. Cleverly blocks the cross. And Newcastle have a corner …
24 min: … dragged back to Ba, but thumped wildly wide by the in-form striker.
25 min: Jonny Evans is getting some magic-sponge treatment in the area after that corner. Pardew takes the opportunity to have an impromptu team meeting on the touchline. I imagine it's not along the lines of: "Well, chaps, this isn't quite going to plan, eh? Never mind, pip pip and chins up …"
27 min: Van Persie goes into Gutierrez. It's a nothing challenge, but Jonas is up and in the Manchester United man's grille.
29 min: Ferdinand goes into Howard Webb's Little Book of Very Naughty Boys after sliding into Ba from behind on the halfway line.
30 min: Another Van Persie foul (this time on Santon) sees him join Ferdinand in the book. Tiote is this time the man with a few choice words for the Dutchman.
31 min: Newcastle have clawed their way back into this since Ben Arfa switched to the left following Manchester United's second goal. De Gea flaps a a cross like a broken swingball but Newcastle can't take advantage.
32 min: Tiote bundles Rooney over, hears Webb's whistle then drops to his knees screaming like an 80s Bruce Springsteen hitting the top notes in Born To Run. Webb, unimpressed, flashes the yellow card.
34 min: Rafael and Kagawa combine neatly down the right. Shane Ferguson is struggled to cope when that pair conspire.
35 min: Welbeck gets in behind the Newcastle back four, but he's got less support than Dagenham and Redbridge (sorry, Daggers fans). His cross rolls a lonely path across the six-yard box.
37 min: "Mohawk, check, overly agressive, check, feeling hard done by after roughing up overhyped opponent, check," writes David Flynn. "Good to see Tiote's Clubber Lang impersonation is coming along nicely." My prediction? Pain!
38 min: De Gea flaps again like a pair of lightweight trousers on a clothesline, but on this occasion Webb blows for a foul.
40 min: Newcastle have certainly got the upper hand now, but De Gea, a couple of cross-flaps aside, hasn't had anything much to do. Again he aims a rather panicked punch at a loose high ball, but he gets just about enough contact on it for his defenders to complete the clearance.
41 min: Guttierez goes steaming into Kagawa, and arrives later than the 14.05 East Midlands Trains service from Wellingborough to Nottingham. Webb produces the fifth yellow card of the half.
44 min: Another Manchester United corner is dealt with unconvincingly by the Newcastle defence with (I think) Carrick's flick-on just evading the unmarked Rooney at the back post.
45 min: Newcastle, as my dad would say (often while popping in a 'lucky' mint), could do with nicking one before half-time. Cissé, having broken free from Evra's shirt-grab, nods wide from a curling free-kick.
45+2 min: Welbeck steadily makes ground down the right. A loose touch allows Newcastle to get a tackle in, but it's another corner ...
45+3 min: … and after a bit of a scramble, the details of which I won't bore you with, Rooney hits the side-netting with an attempted cross.
PEEP! PEEEEP!! Howard Webb brings a really-rather-entertaining half to a close.
Second-half prediction dept
i) A Newcastle goal
ii) A red card
iii) MBMer becoming increasingly distracted by the T20 final
Peep! Off we go again then. Manchester United get the second half off and running.
46 min: Both keepers get an early touch, both from nicely judged back-headers.
47 min: Ferguson cuts inside and makes a strong surge in the direction of the box. Rafael defends brilliantly, going stride-for-stride then nicking the ball away with a challenge so clean you could eat your dinner of it.
48 min: Manchester United have begun with a certain amount of renewed authority here. Newcastle can't afford the sort of dozy start they made in the first half.
49 min: HOW DID THAT STAY OUT? No, really, HOW DID THAT STAY OUT? And, when it comes to it, DID IT stay out? De Gea goes from zero to hero. Another broken-swingball-flap, allows Ba to nod against the bar. As it drops, Cissé heads goalwards. De Gea claws it back brilliantly … but is it over the line? Three-quarters of the ball were over at least. The linesman remains unmoved and we've not seen enough replays to be certain. I think that was probably in. The Man Utd fan sitting on my left reckons otherwise …
51 min: [INSERT GOAL-LINE TECHNOLOGY REFERENCE]
54 min: Cabaye flicks a cross in, Ba gets ahead of Ferdinand but his header drifts wide. Ferguson responds by swapping Kagawa for Antonio Valencia.
56 min: If, and it's a big if, Newcastle can get one back here then an equaliser would be no surprise. Two-nil is a dangerous score, as Neil Warnock once (slightly madly) said.
58 min: "Can somebody answer what the hell is so difficult about a goalkeeper dealing with a cross or high ball?" rages David Flynn. "Does David Dea Gea have some sort of inner ear trouble and so gets completely disorientated when he puts his arms above his head? Does he have no muscles in his ankles and so can't jump straight up? What is the problem here?"
60 min: As the TV cameras focus on the home technical area, Rooney capitalises on a Tiote mistake, breaks free and looses a shot on the Newcastle goal. Harper saves well and the loose ball is tidied up before Van Persie can react.
62 min: Ben Arfa drifts into the centre of the pitch and finds acres of space between the lines of defence and midfield. His shot from distance is dragged well wide, however.
63 min: Here come Foluwashola Ameobi and Vurnon Anita in place of Ferguson and Cisse.
64 min: GO … Oh, hang on, offside. Rooney dinks a pass to Van Persie, Van Persie dinks a shot over Harper, but the the linesman has dinked his flag into the air.
66 min: Cabaye sends in a cross so tasty it comes with a side order of hand-cut, triple-fried chips. Ameobi glances a header at goal but it drifts wide via a deflection. And the resultant corner comes to four-fifths of nothing.
68 min: Pass, pass, pass from the visitors …
GOAL! Newcastle Utd 0-3 Manchester Utd (Cleverley 70) If he means this, it's a screamer. From 25 yards out on the corner of the box, Cleverley either overhits a inswinging cross to Van Persie or pings a glorious effort into the top corner of Harper's net, depending on your point of view. I'd tend towards the former, but then I'm a miserable so-and-so.
72 min: The atmosphere at St James's has been rocking for much of the second half, but that goal has unsurprisingly taken the wind from the Newcastle sails.
73 min: Van Persie is poleaxed by Perch. Howard Webb produces yellow card No6.
75 min: Newcastle get dangerously sloppy at the back, but Manchester United can't cut through on this occasion.
77 min: Santon lashes a shot at goal. Deflected. Corner …
78 min: … scramble, scramble, scramble. Then De Gea does well to punch away as Perch puts him under pressure.
79 min: Paul Scholes replaces Wayne Rooney. Newcastle swap Tiote with Bigirimana.
81 min: Looking at a few still images of that Newcastle 'goal', it's still very, very difficult to make a definitive call either way. That being the case, you'd have to say the officials made the right decision. Won't stop much of the post-match chatter being about that incident, though.
83 min: "Ronaldinho scored a similar goal to Cleverley's yesterday - and then celebrated by bursting into tears," writes Liam Godinho.
84 min: Williamson (I think) goes down after being caught by Van Persie's elbow. Webb opts not to hand out what would've been a second yellow to the Dutchman.
86 min: Copy-and-paste's Bigirimana goes into the book for a chop on Cleverley. And Ryan Giggs replaces Robin van Persie.
89 min: This is winding down now like a Walkman left fast-forwarding for too long.
90 min: Scholes smiles after going into Webb's book after … shall we say Scholesing a Newcastle midfielder.
90+2 min: Newcastle are ending this on the front foot. Three-nil's feels a little harsh on them, but that opening 15 minutes was bad enough to deserve this kind of margin.
PEEP! PEEP!! PEEEEEP!!! Howard Webb brings things to a close. United move second in the Premier League, Newcastle remain jammed in mid-table
Right, that's it from me. Thanks for your emails and tweets. Stick around on site for El Clasico, the Milan derby and much, much more, but for now, cheerio!