Date: 18th August 2008 at 3:23am
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With a totally depleted team, United still managed to dominate Newcastle but the lack of cutting edge was all too obvious.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Luis Nani, Anderson, Ji-sung Park, Louis Saha, Owen Hargreaves – we had to open our title defence without them which meant that the midfield and the attack were down to the bare bones.

Wayne Rooney, having recovered from a virus, was obviously still not fully fit and when we lost Carrick after 25 minutes of football, it just about confirmed that it would not be our day.

Still, United started brightly. We should have been ahead after only a few minutes’ play, when Rooney’s pinpoint cross found Campbell whose powerful, well-struck header hit Given on the had. Then the Irishman made some more conventional saves when he kept out Rooney’s and Scholes’ efforts.

You could sense a goal was coming but what we did not expect was that Newcastle scored it. From one of their first forays into our territory, they won a corner from which one of the smallest players on the pitch headed them into the lead. Sir Alex was not impressed with the marking.

Fortunately, the equaliser came right away: Giggs got the ball on the left, looked up and sent a perfect low cross into the path of Fletcher who sweeped it home from close range. Relief and joy – but it was short-lived.

We played our best football against Portsmouth when Carrick and Scholes were together on the pitch so when the former was forced to come off there were reasons to worry. These worries were subsequently proved well-founded: United’s passing and attacking play just petered out afterwards.

We huffed and puffed, kept possession and tried, tried and tried some more but we lacked cutting edge and creativity. Rooney was far from his best, Campbell played quite well but he’s inexperienced at this level – he will only get better, all the talent and the predatory instincts are there.

The Scholes-O’Shea central midfield was simply not good enough, not even against Newcastle and I think Fergie should have sent on Possebon right away after Carrick’s injury: the Brazilian is much more confident in possession and has more pace than old O’Shea.

Sending Evra to the wing and introducing Rafael ten minutes from time were signs of desperation and despite all the efforts from Fergie to give the team a bit more width, our only meaningful effort was a Vidic header that bounced back off the crossbar.

Once again, like last season, all the Big Four won on the opening day bar us. (In fact, everything was quite the same: Arsenal played first, at home to a weak team and won unconvincingly then Liverpool played away and won with a goal in the last few minutes. Chelsea were next, on Sunday like last season and won at home and we were the last to start the season and we drew at home.)

I could say this is a good omen but it isn’t: quite simply we are once again in the middle of a ridiculous ‘selection crisis’. We need to sign Berbatov as soon as possible, stop the wrangling with Spurs in order to be able to field something distinctly resembling a title-chasing team at Portsmouth.