So here it was, a throwback Manchester United performance just when Jose Mourinho needed it most.
Forced to release the handbrake by a Newcastle team who threatened to embarrass them, United played with energy, width, pace and maybe with the sense of a point to prove to score four goals in the Premier League for the fifth time this season. This was not perfect but even the great United teams never were.
Defensively, Mourinho’s side were a little square and static at times. After the fuss over the six injections given to the absent Phil Jones on England duty, here his replacement, Victor Lindelof, struggled – but that sense of frailty only contributed to the ebb and flow of the afternoon, to the thrill of the spectacle.
Yes, this was like an old-school afternoon and if Mourinho is not going to spend his entire time at Old Trafford with an asterisk next to his name (yes, he won but my oh my he could bore us too) then this is going to have to be the way to go.
More than three months into the season, Mourinho fielded Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in the same forward line for the first time. The big Belgian played through the middle with his team-mates providing pace left and right. With the returning Paul Pogba and the elegant Nemanja Matic striding like two giants across midfield, this was a United side with great balance and presence.
They didn’t deserve to win by such a margin but they certainly deserved to win and if United are to make a go of the title race with Manchester City then they are going to have to press on into winter with these players fit and with this attitude.
United are not City and never will be. They do not have the same depth of quality and their manager’s mind is programmed differently to Pep Guardiola’s.
However, that doesn’t mean they can’t win a lot of matches. They have a cussedness, for example, that City have yet to show and in players such as Lukaku – now a goalscorer again – Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they have the weaponry that can turn games.Ibrahimovic’s return was stunning, not due to what he contributed but because he was there at all. To return only seven months after such a bad knee injury – and at 36 – is a startling achievement.
This, though, was Pogba’s day. The day to show a little of why United paid Juventus £89million to bring him home.
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand posed for pictures with him afterwards and said: ‘He has playground tricks that he brings to a stadium in front of 80,000 peoplePogba and Lukaku both scored in the second half and this was a fine afternoon for a centre forward who had not scored for his club since September. Alan Shearer recently advised Lukaku to roam no further than the width of the penalty area as he sought a goal to change his luck. It seemed sound advice but here Lukaku took on more than that and the cross he landed on Rashford’s head in the build-up to Pogba’s goal was terrific.
With Lukaku scoring, Pogba starring and Ibrahimovic back, this was a good afternoon for agent Mino Raiola, who represents all three. It was, however, a better afternoon for Mourinho.
City visit Old Trafford in three weeks for what could be a defining afternoon. It will be interesting to see if Mourinho and his team have the courage to be so expansive and ambitious again.