Sub Lukaku's instant impact shows Solskjaer's magic touch again at Man United
NEWCASTLE, England -- Here are three points from St. James' Park on Man United's 2-0 win at Newcastle in the Premier League.
1. Solskjaer does it again
Everything Ole Gunnar Solskjaer touches is turning to gold.
With Manchester United getting pushed onto the back foot in the second half against Newcastle, the Norwegian sent on Romelu Lukaku. Less than a minute later, the Belgian scored with his first touch, and a game that looked like it might end in a draw or worse was suddenly under control.
As a player, Solskjaer made a name for himself by changing things from the bench. It turns out he can do it as a manager, too.
He is only the second United manager to win his first four league games in charge matching a record set by Sir Matt Busby in 1946. This was a tougher test than the first three, but the end result was the same.
For the first time under Solskjaer, United were not leading at half-time. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford had chances, but the interim boss had more than just congratulatory handshakes to dish out during the break.
They were saved until the final whistle after watching Lukaku replace Martial after 63 minutes and immediately poke the ball into the net after Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka fumbled Rashford's free kick. It was a horrible mistake of the type Rafael Benitez could do without, with his team already firmly in a battle against relegation.
With Newcastle pushing for an equaliser 10 minutes from time, United broke quickly. Lukaku found fellow substitute Alexis Sanchez, who squeezed a fine pass through to Rashford, who wrapped up the points with a slotted finish. That's three in four games for the England youngster since Solskjaer took over.
The only thing missing from Solskjaer's United CV was a clean sheet, and even that was delivered by the time the full-time whistle sounded. The away fans high above the goal sang Solskjaer songs all night -- just as they did against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth.
A trip to Tottenham in 10 days will provide a real test of the Norwegian's credentials, but most of the United supporters inside St. James' Park have already decided that he should be in the running to get this job permanently.
2. Lukaku becoming United's super sub
Romelu Lukaku missed the first two games of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign, having been granted compassionate leave. After coming on as a substitute against Bournemouth, he scored with his fourth touch. He was even quicker here, finding the net the first time he touched the ball.
The Belgian went through a spell under Jose Mourinho of being untouchable, but with Rashford playing so well as a striker, he has work to do to convince Solskjaer that he should be starting every week. Scoring twice in two games is not a bad way to start.
Solskjaer wants him to play more facing the goal, and the way United are set up under their temporary boss should help him do that. The 45-year-old has made a point of telling his full-backs to push further up the pitch than they were used to under Mourinho, and that should translate into more crosses into the box for Lukaku.
Paul Pogba playing further forward will help too -- it was the Frenchman who set up his goal against Bournemouth -- although he was kept at arm's length by Newcastle's midfield. Isolated and feeding off scraps during the final months under Mourinho, Lukaku became something of a figure of fun. After two games with Solskjaer, he has reminded everyone that he is still a lethal goal scorer.
3. Benitez really needs help this time
Rafa Benitez ended his program notes by telling supporters that he hoped "2019 is a great year for you all," but for the majority of the 52,217 fans who packed inside St. James' Park on a bitterly cold night, that will depend on whether their team are in the Premier League in 12 months' time.
Like any Benitez team, they are well organised and, for the most part, tough to break down. They started the new year having conceded 27 goals in their first 20 games -- a better defensive record than both Manchester United and Arsenal. But the problem is at the other end, and only Fulham scored fewer goals in the first half of the season.
Benitez needs help in the transfer market -- he needs a striker -- but that is unlikely to happen while Mike Ashley is in charge of the cheque book. Whether Newcastle buy in January or not, they should stay up, but only because there are worse teams in the division.
They have games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham in their next four, and Cardiff's visit here on Jan. 19 has already been circled as a key clash. Newcastle fans deserve more than an annual fight against relegation, but the change that needs to happen is off the pitch rather than on it.