It wasn’t long ago that Manchester United was being talked up, somewhat optimistically, as a potential outsider for the Premier League title.
Now, even a top-four finish is looking far from assured for a club up for sale and seeking Champions League qualification as another attraction for potential buyers.
United’s 2-0 loss at Newcastle on Sunday further intensified the race for the two likely spots behind Arsenal and Manchester City, the Premier League’s runaway top two, in Europe’s top competition next season.
Second-half goals by Joe Willock and Callum Wilson gave Newcastle partial revenge for its loss to United in the English League Cup final on Feb. 26 and lifted the Saudi-controlled northeast team into third place, above United on goal difference. Tottenham is a point behind both teams in fifth place ahead of its game at Everton on Monday.
“I do think Newcastle are a very good side, but I don’t think they won the game on quality today,” United defender Luke Shaw said. “I think they won it on passion, hunger, desire, attitude. They clearly had that higher motivation than we had. That can’t be possible.”
“You could say it was coming,” Shaw added. “Before the international break, we dropped levels. It was clear to see today it wasn’t up there.”
For United, it’s just one point — a 0-0 home draw with struggling Southampton — from a possible nine in its last three league games. That’s a worrying drop in form amid a hectic fixture schedule for Erik ten Hag’s team, which is also still involved in the FA Cup and Europa League.
Also hurting United is the current absence of Casemiro in league play because of the Brazil international’s four-match suspension in the competition. The team’s midfield was overwhelmed at St. James’ Park as Newcastle laid siege on David de Gea’s goal, which was only breached after halftime.
Willock nodded in from point-blank range to make it 1-0 in the 65th minute after Allan Saint-Maximin headed back across goal, before Wilson — just on as a substitute — headed in Kieran Trippier’s free kick in the 88th.
“For a long time, we’ve always disliked Man United as Newcastle fans,” said Newcastle defender Dan Burn, a boyhood supporter of his team. “We owed them one this season.”
It was a third straight league win for Newcastle, which looks over a blip at the start of the year where the team claimed just three points in a five-game spell.
“Our confidence levels should be through the roof after that,” Newcastle manager Eddie Howe told his players in the locker room.
On a day when Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers lost his job, the pressure was eased on West Ham’s David Moyes thanks to a 1-0 win over Southampton in a tense game between the teams which started Sunday as the bottom two.
Nayef Aguerd’s 25th-minute header was enough to lift West Ham from 19th to 14th and leave last-place Southampton three points adrift of safety in one of the tightest relegation battles in years.
“Look, I’m in a results business, I have to get results,” Moyes said. “There’s no protection to stop me losing my job.”
West Ham is still only one point above the relegation zone.
Southampton hasn’t been out of the Premier League since 2011-12.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports