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NEWCASTLE, England -- One of the teams playing at St James' Park was bottom of the Premier League table exactly two years ago and, if you didn't know any better, you wouldn't have guessed it was Newcastle United.
This was supposed to be the season Manchester United kicked on under manager Erik ten Hag -- but instead it's Eddie Howe's side, staring relegation in the face not so long ago, who look better organised, better prepared and better coached.
Newcastle beat Man United 1-0 on Saturday and there's an argument that, despite being relative newcomers to English football's top table (thanks to heavy investment from Saudi Arabia since a takeover in 2021), they have already progressed beyond their rivals from Manchester.
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Both managers, Howe and Ten Hag, will tell you that they are overseeing projects that will take time to get right, but there's mounting evidence to suggest that Newcastle are already further along in their journey.
Both coaches are dealing with injuries, both teams had tough Champions League away games in the week and yet Newcastle were significantly better on the night and could have won by more.
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"Today we have to say the credits to Newcastle," said Ten Hag. "After the start where we could have scored with Alejandro Garnacho they were better than us, they were more proactive and we had to go behind to go back and they had to defend.
"We did that but we allowed them one goal and in the end we fought back. We had two good opportunities but we couldn't take a point from there."
Man United arrived in Newcastle on the back of five wins in their last six Premier League games but it's a run of form which has, at times, hidden their frailty and here it was brutally exposed. Anthony Gordon got the only goal early in the second half but if the gap in the score line was only one, the gulf between the performances of the two teams was far greater.
There were 16 shots in the first half, of which Newcastle had 14. By the end of the 90 minutes the tally was 22 to Newcastle and eight to Man United, who only managed one on target. Kieran Trippier hit the underside of the bar with a free-kick for Newcastle and when Gordon's goal finally came, it felt almost inevitable.
"If you lose, you are always unhappy and we talk with the team about the why but I am sure this team is resilient," said Ten Hag. "We have to pick this up. This team has the experience and we have to get ready for Wednesday [against Chelsea]. Next game, and not stay on this game."
Manchester United forward Antony looks dejected after the final whistle blows in a 1-0 loss to Newcastle United. Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images
Newcastle needed two goalkeepers after Nick Pope was forced off with an injury in the second half but he didn't have a save to make and neither did his replacement, Martin Dúbravka.
For that, most of the blame will fall on the shoulders of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial because, for the 61 minutes the pair were on the pitch, they were largely anonymous. At one stage in the first half, Martial was engaged in a fierce row with Ten Hag on the touchline and, for large spells of the game, Rashford didn't look interested.
The timing of such a dire display from Rashford was telling as he was upstaged by Gordon on the day England found out their draw for the Euros next summer. Gordon was left out of the latest squad by England manager Gareth Southgate but the case to pick Rashford ahead of him is shrinking by the day. Gordon's goal was his sixth in the Premier League this season while Rashford looks a shadow of the player who got 30 in all competitions last season.
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"I know this issue is coming up and Marcus is investing a lot," said Ten Hag. "We support him and he will return to his form. He works hard and he's investing a lot, he will get back, he will recover and he gets all our support."
There were signs at Everton and even in the 3-3 draw at Galatasaray on Wednesday that Man United were starting to find their feet after a torrid start to the season, but the manner of the defeat at Newcastle can only be considered as another significant setback.
It's now six defeats in 14 league games and 10 in all competitions as Newcastle won three successive meetings against Man United for the first time since 1922. Man United, meanwhile, haven't won away in the Premier League against a side starting the day in the top eight since October 2021.
Newcastle played like a team comfortable with their billing as one of the best in the league while it was Man United's players who gave the impression they might have been the ones in a relegation battle just two years ago.
The result saw Newcastle leapfrog Man United in the table but the concern for Ten Hag is that the real jump ahead is far greater.