In the end, it followed the narrative of away wins at the Emirates and St Mary's Stadium this season; United somehow won the match inspite of all the elements (including a minor storm of saliva). Had Anthony Taylor not been blind sighted and rightfully awarded a penalty to Newcastle in the 11th minute, we might all have been in a different mood this morning. United have been rather poor at coming from behind this season (in terms of going on to win the match) so falling behind that early on would probably have 'smashed' the confidence in the side.
It says a lot about the game-proper that off-pitch incidents have taken on much more significance. Jonny Evans and Papis Cisse were not about to wait for another 350 odd days for another Valentines Day to come around and so sought to exchange spit last night. Then Ryan Giggs became that dude that deliberately refuses to laugh at a funny joke when Louis van Gaal tagged his cheek in the euphoria of Ashley Young's (Bless him) winner.
The former incident will probably end up in a ban for the players involved whilst the latter has got them conspirators suggesting that it was evidence that Ryan Giggs does not buy into the philosophy of Louis van Gaal. An alleged disharmony that has come just in time to replace one that was extinguished earlier this month and indeed last night when David De Gea and LVG looked very much on speaking terms and far from the concoction that social media came up with. But I digress.
Here's the thing: The possession-based system that the manager has got us currently playing is not 'English' and as such is vulnerable to the unforgiving nature of the Premier League. It's why United are the most vulnerable of the lot competing for those Champions League spots. So much possession but devoid of ideas on how to use it. The familiar pattern is that United will win possession and camp around the penalty area of the opposition and switch the ball from one wing to the other hopping for something to happen. It is too predictable and easy to defend against. I personally feel that we should at least get the tempo up by a notch or two.
However, the feeling I get from the manager however is that he does not trust a lot of the players available to him, especially in the centre of that defence. Think of it this way: LVG was so shaken by the injuy sustained by Kevin Strootman prior to the World Cup that having Nigel De Jong (a not so bad holding player) was not enough to convince him to go ahead with the attacking 4-3-3. It comes down to trust, in the same way employers have those employees they would rather are doing particular jobs and not someone else however similar in traits.
I think LVG has played it safe. It's not ideal, and not within the club's DNA to be defined by anything 'safe' but here is a man whose success or failure this season hinges on a single goal---one that could be achieved or missed by the skin of the teeth in light of the league standings.
It's been easy for him to justify his methods with most of the results and indeed statistics but the litmus test is round the corner. Sometime between next Monday and the end of April, we shall be certain of what to make of United's season. The tests upcoming in both the league and the Cup are in many ways End of Term Exams for Machester United, because for all the weekly and monthly assessment tests done throughout the season, it will all count for little if the side is finally exposed at this stage of the season by the quality of opposition.
What LVG has in his favour is that he is a master at adopting to the opposition. United have not been shown up so much in the big games so far (in terms of results anyway) because the Dutchman has his team drilled to the opposition weekly by the minute detail. But just like the Netherlands went into the world cup as nowhere near favourites status, so will United head into the winter of the upcoming schedule. What is for certain is that it is bound to make for intriguing viewing as the boss attempts to protect the flaws of the current side whilst looking for an Achilles heel in the opposition. Everything about it is bound to be box office stuff because whereas David Moyes showed us all his cards too soon and hence made himself subject of judgement and sentencing, LVG has kept a solid majority onside, leaving many uncertain of how good he can be. Goodness knows you cannot let something go before you are fully aware of the full extent to which it can benefit you.
We'll know soon enough.
It is just as well then that the first of these battles is a matter of Death or the 'Gladiolli' on Monday night prime time.