BY FRANK GARRASI
It was more of the same at Old Trafford on Boxing Day as Manchester United dominated and defeated Newcastle United 3-1 in what was one of its best performances yet under Louis van Gaal.
Two first half goals from Wayne Rooney and a well executed Robin van Persie header were enough to extend the gap between third and fourth to three points.
The 3-5-2 system was deployed yet again for Manchester United, this time bearing fruit as the Red Devils turned in a fantastic performance in all areas of the pitch.
The match began with United gaining a stranglehold on possession, though it initially struggled to break down a resolute and structured Toon defence.
Newcastle’s Ayoze Perez was a livewire in the opening stages of the game, twisting and turning the Red Devils’ back three and earning the Geordies some possession in United’s half.
Attacking full back Daryl Janmaat was the first to test one of the two keepers, forcing David de Gea to turn his shot behind for a corner in the 19th minute.
As has been the case so far this season, Ashley Young was looking dangerous as he got the better of Janmaat on a few occasions in the first half, delivering some inviting crosses into the box that weren’t capitalised on.
For all their early pressure, the Red Devils did eventually break through midway during the first half.
In what was a great counter attacking goal, Wayne Rooney picked up the ball inside his own half, dished it off to Juan Mata who played a ball over the top to Radamel Falcao who then squared it back to an onrushing Rooney, giving him the easiest of tap-ins.
This goal sent Rooney to third in United’s all time list of highest goal scorers, with 223 goals.
Not long after this, the Old Trafford faithful had their hearts in their mouths as Jack Colback delivered a dangerous ball into United’s box from a set piece which Phil Jones got a telling touch on to turn behind for a corner.
Thirteen minutes on from scoring the first of the game, Rooney was at it again as he stroked the ball past Jak Alnwick to give United more breathing space.
The same three involved in the first goal were key to United scoring its second.
Falcao’s tackle in United’s attacking third earned the Red Devils possession high up the pitch, which Mata took over and slid in Rooney to score the second of the game and to take his seasonal tally to eight.
By the end of the first half, Newcastle was looking almost timid as the Red Devils showed that they were a class above their opponents.
The second half began in almost the same manner in which the first ended as Robin van Persie headed United to a 3-0 lead inside the opening ten minutes.
Rooney’s ball for van Persie was of the highest order and the finish was neat as well.
A free kick earned at the edge of the box nearly presented Rooney with a hat-trick as his shot went a little over.
With just over ten minutes left of the game, Rafael made his way onto the pitch: an encouraging sight for United supporters as it looks to finally be getting over its injury plague.
As the game neared its end the Red Devils began to switch off, allowing the Toon to gain possession high up the pitch.
This resulted in Phil Jones giving away a sloppy penalty that resulted from a clumsy challenge on Jack Colback.
Papiss Cisse emphatically dispatched the penalty, but this was not enough for Newcastle as Manchester United sent the Geordies back to the North-East with four straight defeats.
Wayne Rooney, with a brace and an assist to his name, was handed man of the match after a terrific performance.
This terrific team performance meant United had won on Boxing Day for the eleventh consecutive year.
With seven wins in the last eight games, the Red Devils will now go to White Hart Lane on the 28th with momentum on their side as they look to topple a somewhat resurgent Tottenham Hotspur.