Manchester United travelled to Newcastle on Sunday keen to bounce back from defeat to Tottenham last weekend and did so in style to go second in the Premier League.
The Red Devils left the hosts in the dust early on, scoring two goals from corners in the opening minutes through Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra, while Tom Cleverley's second-half strike, whether intended or not, crowned a convincing display.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew drafted Premier League top scorer Demba Ba back into his starting XI for the clash after he was rested in the Europa League win over Bordeaux in midweek but the Senegal striker could not get on the scoresheet against the Red Devils despite his aerial prowess. Hatem Ben Arfa was another big-name return to the line-up alongside Steve Harper, Jonas Gutierrez and Davide Santon.
Sir Alex Ferguson had several defensive injuries to contend with but his somewhat makeshift backline contributed a commendable display at St James' Park to keep a crucial clean-sheet. Michael Carrick produced an impressive shift after returning to Ferguson's starting line-up alongside Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck after the trio sat out the midweek victory over Cluj.
Pardew went with a 4-4-2 system but he soon realised it wasn't going to cut it against United, who ran the show in midfield in the opening minutes after making the brighter start. Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote looked overrun in the middle of the park as Ben Arfa and Gutierrez endured some ineffectual early minutes out wide. After the Magpies had gone 2-0 down the manager did some tinkering to a 4-3-3 formation to match the visitors' more narrow shape. The change worked in the way it gave Newcastle more control in midfield and they looked more likely to score after the reshuffle but couldn't convert their chances.
Ferguson went with an attacking approach and was rewarded for his bold choice as United flourished in an unfamiliar system. United's midfield has come in for criticism but they excelled in a diamond shape which boasted the excellent Wayne Rooney at the top. The winger-less side bossed proceedings in midfield in the early stages, with Tom Cleverley and Carrick also producing impressive displays. The visitors' backline provided a solid foundation for their attacking endeavours, while full-backs Patrice Evra and Rafael also provided offensive support down the flanks. The visitors could have gone further ahead had Welbeck shown more composure with his finishing, missing some key chances.
A double Newcastle change came not long into the second half as Shola Ameobi and Vurnon Anita were introduced by Pardew for Cisse and Shane Ferguson respectively. Ameobi saw little service up front and was unable to spark some firepower into the home side, while Anita couldn't make much of an impact. Pardew's final change came 10 minutes from time as Gael Bigirmana came on for Cheick Tiote but he had little effect on a game that looked already lost for the Toon.
Ferguson brought on Antonio Valencia early in the second half to provide cover on the right, with Kagawa making way after a quiet afternoon in comparison to his fellow midfielders. His only other changes came late on with the introduction of veteran midfielders Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, with the former helping to keep the ball for the final 10 minutes after replacing man-of-the-match Rooney, while Giggs made a three minute cameo, probably to protect Van Persie, who was already on a booking.
Howard Webb was not shy with his yellow card in the first half as he dished out five bookings but he was more composed after the break. The referee did miss a crucial moment as Evra appeared to tug the shirt of Cisse in the area as he defended a free-kick and the Newcastle striker was left aggrieved. Another important call also involving Cisse fell to the linesman as the frontman's shot came close to crossing the line but De Gea appeared to claw it out. There was more controversy late on, with Pardew claiming Van Persie elbowed Cabaye in an off-the-ball incident which also went unnoticed by Webb.
Newcastle paid for a slow start and Pardew was left disappointed at the manner in which his side conceded two goals from corners early on. They showed some positive signs as they created chances but their failure to convert them was the difference even when they managed to get a footing on the game. The Magpies are now without a win in two and will be keen to stage an immediate response at Sunderland when the campaign resumes after the international break.
Ferguson will have wanted his United side to respond in style after last weekend's defeat to Spurs and he wasn't disappointed on Sunday. The visitors performed as a tight unit, with the midfield clicking well and the defence answering criticisms from previous games. The win has pushed United up into second to quieten any premature panic and they will be keen to push on when they host Stoke next time out.