Manchester United strolled to a routine opening Premier League win over Newcastle United, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side rarely required hit the top note at a packed Old Trafford stadium. Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Fletcher and substitute Ryan Giggs scored the goals that ensured the Scot’s side opened the new campaign with maximum points.
United dominated proceedings, warming into the match as it wore on, with Paul Scholes and Berbatov outstanding against a stubborn Newcastle side whose sole aim this season is to remain in the division. Chelsea hit six on Saturday, but Ferguson will professed himself more than happy with the win on the opening day.
“Newcastle were difficult to break down at times,” admitted Ferguson, who said his side is still short of fitness following this summer’s World Cup.
“There was a period of about 10 minutes in the second half when we spent time round their box and we couldn’t break them down. “We were a little bit wasteful, I think Dimitar Berbatov should have scored three or four but his performance was excellent.”
“I think the three points are always important in your first home match, for most of the game we were in control, our passing was good at times and it was a steady performance.”
Ferguson, who knows sterner tests will come for his side in a quest to bring a 19th title to to Old Trafford in May, opted for a straight 4-4-2 formation, with Berbatov supporting Wayne Rooney in United’s attack and Fletcher returning alongside Scholes in central midfield.
The formation, which Ferguson will almost certainly only use against sides he is confident United will beat, gave United a more rigid feel with neither Scholes nor Fletcher breaking beyond the ball in the early stages.
The visitors though were happy to concede possession and break from midfield, while remaining competitive in the centre of the park. It created an untidy opening to the match with United struggling to build any fluency in attacking areas and the visitors regularly conceding fouls. While Scholes found himself caught with the ball on three occasions early in the first half, Joey Barton and Alan Smith both fell foul of the official with rough-house tactics.
Indeed, Newcastle was fortunate to retain the full complement after James Perch hauled down Nani with the United winger baring down on goal. Seemingly the last man, Perch – a recent recruit from Nottingham Forest – fouled the Portuguese but picked up only yellow from official Chris Foy.
Not that Ferguson’s side, despite monopolising possession, had the game under complete control with lanky Newcastle striker Andy Caroll first heading wide when unmarked and then shooting straight at United ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar from range.
The breakthrough came on a rare foray forward by Scholes during the first period, with the veteran midfielder finding Berbatov in space for the Bulgarian to fire low past Steve Harper. Then Fletcher got in on the act minutes later, ghosting into the Newcastle area to stab home from six yards and double United’s advantage on the eve of half-time.
It galvanised United, with the home side more fluid after the break than before it. Indeed, Scholes’ ability to use the ball was central to an improved performance from United in the second period. The midfielder, drifting further forward than earlier in the match, dictated both the tempo and pattern of the game. Even at 35, Scholes is too good for most.
Berbatov was heavily involved too, even if the Bulgarian could be charged with over-elaborating a times: first trying to flick home with the outside of a boot when clear, then attempting an outrageous overhead kick and then choosing to lob Harper when a more conventional cross beckoned.
If the vibrant atmosphere first half atmosphere threatened to fall flat with the home side unable to convert pressure into goals, then Javier Hernández’ introduction earned a huge roar at Old Trafford. The Mexican, so lively in pre-season, has already become a fans’ favourite and promises a bright future.
Hernández though is the next generation, while Scholes and Giggs, a second half substitute for Nani on the left flank, remain very much in the present. The veteran pair may both retire next summer but held enough in the tank to combine for United’s final goal, with Scholes’ weighted chip deftly volleyed home by Giggs from 15 yards.
“The most important thing in the first game is to win and even though we could have scored more we’ll take that,” said Scholes, who picked up the man-of-the-match award.
“We didn’t start too well, but when we scored we were a constant threat after that and moved them around quite a lot.”
Scholes deserved a goal for his part in the proceedings; he’ll be satisfied that he can still contribute so much at the highest level.
United: van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Evans, Evra (Rafael da Silva, 87); Valencia, Scholes, Fletcher, Nani (Giggs, 71); Berbatov, Rooney (Hernández, 63)
Man-of-the-match: Paul Scholes
Possession: United 62% – 38% Newcastle
Attempts: 12 – 4
On target: 7 – 2
Corners: 3 – 2
Fouls: 8 – 4