Manchester United’s early-season goal-scoring problems resurfaced in a 0-0 draw with Newcastle United on Saturday that left them with just two goals from their opening three Premier League games.
The spotlight will inevitably fall on England centre-forward Wayne Rooney, who has now gone 10 games without a goal for his club and was once again operating as the only striker in manager Louis van Gaal’s formation.
The attacking shortcomings were plastered over in the 3-1 Champions League play-off defeat of Club Brugge in mid-week, only for former assistant Steve McClaren to frustrate his old employers on his return to Old Trafford as Newcastle manager.
United had to wait until the 80th minute to truly test Tim Krul as substitute Javier Hernandez latched onto a deflected Juan Mata shot, only for the Newcastle goalkeeper to jut out a leg and produce a breathtaking stop.
The game burst into life in injury time, with Chris Smalling heading against the post for the hosts, Newcastle debutant Florian Thauvin almost toeing in a low cross and United substitute Michael Carrick shooting just wide.
The home team had started the contest at an electrifying pace, with the visitors immediately on the back foot, and Rooney saw an early effort chalked off for a marginal offside.
But it helped Newcastle that the final pass was often lacking from the home side or, when shooting opportunities presented themselves, they resulted all too often in routine shots directly at Krul.
Memphis Depay, Rooney and Mata, from a promising free-kick outside the area, were all guilty of that in the opening exchanges.
And when Ayoze Perez dithered and allowed Matteo Darmian to set up Mata after 15 minutes, Krul was equal to the task, diving low to his left and turning the Spaniard’s shot behind for a corner.
Krul also saved solidly from Rooney’s shot on the turn, but as the half progressed, Newcastle grew in confidence.
– Mitrovic hits bar –
Only a poor first touch denied Massadio Haidara a clear run on goal after a neat one-two with Georginio Wijnaldum.
Even more worryingly for Van Gaal’s team, after 23 minutes right-back Chancel Mbemba crossed and Aleksandar Mitrovic outjumped Darmian, sending a magnificent header past Sergio Romero and against the crossbar.
The home response was swift, with Adnan Januzaj showing strength in midfield and slipping through a pass for Depay, who rounded goalkeeper Krul only to see his attempted pull-back cut out by Mbemba.
Before the interval, there was another chance for the visitors, after more poor defending from the hosts, as Perez dragged a shot narrowly wide.
United’s dominance, in terms of possession, continued after the restart, but again, there was no cutting edge once inside, or even within sight of, the Newcastle penalty area.
Depay won a free-kick, after a clumsy foul by Gabriel Obertan, but succeeded only in placing the resulting dead ball directly into the Newcastle defensive wall.
The Dutch winger, so devastatingly effective against Club Brugge, then made room for himself with a darting move across the face of the Newcastle box, but once again the end product was errant, his shot flying well over.
McClaren threw on French new signing Thauvin for his first taste of Premier League football, but there were even fewer openings for his side in the second half than there had been before the break.
United’s frustrations were growing, with Mata appealing vainly for a penalty after contact from Jack Colback on the edge of the box and then volleying wildly over with his weaker right foot from Rooney’s left-wing cross. – Agence France-Presse