This was a major statement of intent by
Rio Ferdinand looked every inch an international-class centre half, Wayne Rooney was outstanding between the boxes and Tom Cleverley capped one of his best displays with a first Premier League goal for the club.
This was food for thought for Manchester United’s rivals and for the watching England manager, Roy Hodgson.
It was not all sweetness and light for the visitors. There will be residual concerns about David de Gea’s ability to deal with balls crossed into traffic.
There will be fears that the authorities may examine an incident
Yet Sir Alex Ferguson’s men returned home with a kitbag-full of positives and the three points. As well as Ferdinand, Rooney and Cleverley, good performances were seen from Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra, who both scored, and Rafael. The away entourage up in the gods celebrated long and loud.
For Newcastle, there was the frustration of being caught cold by the visitors’ lightning start and by their own brittleness in defending set pieces early on.
They badly missed absent friends like Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor.
Yet few teams could have lived with such opponents as Manchester United, who stormed out of the traps. They started as if on a mission, as if wanting to wrap this up in the first 20 minutes. They were magnificent, tearing into Newcastle, ripping the hosts’ defence to black-and-white ribbons. They were hungrier, sharper, pressing hard and fast.
From the first whistle, they went for the jugular, a neat move involving a Van Persie header and Evans’s back-heel before Danny Welbeck’s weak shot failed to worry Steve Harper.
Rooney, starting deeper than usual but a force from box to box, was pulling the strings in midfield, ably assisted by the energetic Cleverley while Michael Carrick sat deeper.
Van Persie was all darting movement, Welbeck switched between centreforward and working the left. Shinji Kagawa, slightly subdued, patrolled the right, allowing Rafael to raid upfield.
The pressure swiftly told. After eight minutes, Van Persie forced a save from Harper and then strode across to take the corner.
Mike Williamson was marking Evans but the Northern Ireland international was far more determined, far too clever in his movement as Van Persie swerved in the ball from the flag. Evans, ignoring a late and vainful attempt at a challenge from Demba Ba, headed powerfully in.
The visitors were so in charge that Newcastle resorted to illegal means to stop them. Cheick Tiote stamped on Cleverley, leaving the England midfielder rolling in pain, a nasty offence that stoked up the temperature. Having gingerly climbed to his feet, checking that all his
limbs were intact, Cleverley moved upfield, soon winning a free kick following a foul by Papiss Cissé. Rooney curled the ball goalwards, and denied only by a stretching save from Harper.
The dead-ball danger merely doubled. Rooney ran across to the corner, placed the ball down, and curled it
in, just beyond the near post where Evra headed in for only his fourth league goal for United. As the players raced over to the away dugout to celebrate, Cleverley took the opportunity to have a quiet word with the assistant referee, Mike Mullarkey, about Tiote’s foul.
Rooney was still impressing with his covering back, making an important interception from a Davide Santon cross. The game was breathless, occasionally reckless. Gutiérrez, hardly the dirtiest player in the Premier League, still slid in wildly on Kagawa, who was fortunate his foot was not planted. The Japanese international escaped damage but Ferguson was livid.
The second half opened in slightly controversial fashion. Shane Ferguson crossed for Demba Ba to head against the bar. Cissé was quickest to the loose ball.
De Gea clawed the ball on to the post with Newcastle screaming it had crossed the line, assistant referee Darren Cann signalled it had not. Even frequent TV reviews could not completely confirm whether the whole ball was over the line. Cann called it right.
Newcastle briefly grew in confidence, moving the ball more assertively towards Cissé and Ba. Hatem Ben Arfa was occasionally a threat. Newcastle were making some ground down the left so Ferguson reacted, withdrawing Kagawa and sending Antonio Valencia on.
Manchester United were still reliant on some alert defending from Ferdinand to dispossess Ben Arfa. The game was finally killed off after 71 minutes when Cleverley looked up and curled the ball over Harper, insisting afterwards that he meant it. The game was over, the points safely heading towards Old Trafford, but there were still some fractious moments.
James Perch went through the back of Van Persie, who then seemed to leave an elbow in Cabaye’s face. The match finished with Gael Bigirimana clattering Cleverley. The England midfielder took it as a compliment. He’d been that good. So had Manchester United.