United’s midweek draw with Benfica threw up something of a dilemma. United played good, entertaining attacking football however failed to win. For many though it was a welcome sight after the dull and dreary stuff that’s been played recently at Everton, Swansea and home to Sunderland. So, would you rather win playing stuff that’s a bit “meh” or see entertaining football without the win guaranteed? The answer, of course, is you want to win playing the United brand of football, football for the fans to enjoy. Time for us to roll back the years then and give Newcastle a ruddy good hammering…
With nearly a third of the season played, you cannot tell me you’d have guessed Newcastle would be fourth, level on points with Spurs in third. Newcastle have already amassed over half the points they got last year when they finished 12th, seven points clear of relegation. Alan Pardew, fast approaching the first year of his five and a half year contract seems to have won over swathes of the Toon Army after being an incredibly unpopular appointment following Chris Hughton’s sacking.
Whilst United use the “no value” line, Newcastle proved that you can get players for the right money in this market. Six good footballers were brought in over the summer for just over £13m. Mehdi Abeid, Sylvain Marveaux and Yohan Cabaye arrived from France; Davide Santon came from Inter in Italy; and Demba Ba and Gabriel Obertan arrived from West Ham and Man United respectively. Still, most of the £35m received for Andy Carroll (what a ridiculous sum of money!) remains to be spent as the majority of this summer’s spending was funded by the sales of Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique.
Having already faced Arsenal, Spurs and Man City, it makes Newcastle’s position even more impressive. The squad selection consistency has rewarded Newcastle so far (maybe something to take note of, Fergie) and, if players stay fit then there appears to be no reason why Newcastle cannot compete for a top 6 or 7 place. Their biggest problem is maybe the fact that the big teams around them are yet to hit top form and when they do, Newcastle will find themselves under pressure to keep churning out results.
After last month’s defeat against Man City, United have won their three Premier League games by a 1-0 scoreline. In fact, Benfica were the first team to score against United in a month when they drew at Old Trafford last week. Form shows that both sides have 13 points from their last six games with Man United picking up 15 points from their last 18 available at home and Newcastle taking 11 points from their six away games so far.
United are averaging 3 goals a game at home but are conceding more than one a game too. In defence, Newcastle are tight away, conceding just one goal a game and scoring only just more than that. Man United have kept a clean sheet in 50% of their home games this season; Newcastle have kept a clean sheet in a third of their away games and only failed to score once (away to QPR).
With 9 league goals, Wayne Rooney United’s top scorer; Demba Ba is Newcastle’s with 8. Ba, Best and Cabaye all have three assists; Ashley Young has 5 for United. The only team to beat both sides is Man City!
For the first time all season, United have every defender fit and available. The news regarding the midfield is less positive; Cleverley is out for a month and Anderson out for at least two months. Rooney has been declared fit although Owen remains out and Welbeck is unlikely to be risked. Macheda returns to the match squad after an injury and Berbatov has an ankle knock but should be ok.
Williamson and Marveaux are definitely out for Newcastle whilst Guthrie and Best are expected to be passed fit. The biggest question marks hang over Obertan and Tiote; the former given a good chance of playing but the latter is rated as a doubt having picked up a knee injury.
United formation and starting XI prediction:
The formation will almost certainly be of the 4-4-1-1 variety again with the biggest decisions coming in the midfield area. Coming up midweek is the Carling Cup game against Crystal Palace which will provide a chance for various players who need game-time to get up to full fitness – Rafael, Evans and Gibson most notably.
In front of De Gea I think experience will reign. Ferdinand and Vidic have look assured and controlled when partnered together recently; they have also possibly helped to calm down Evra who is again playing to a more consistent level of performance. Right back provides an area for discussion – Rafael is back but won’t be sharp; Fabio has been good; Jones has been fine but played a lot and Smalling got minutes against Benfica. I think Jones may get a rest and Smalling will get the start. Evans if fit could push Rio hard for a centre back spot meanwhile; he has seemingly been first choice this year.
In midfield one would think that Carrick and Fletcher pick themselves, certainly the former does based on current form. Giggs though could come in to add some calm, he still has the ability to ‘make things happen’ too; yet I think Fletcher’s energy may win on this occasion. Out wide, Nani should regain his starting spot after a good performance against Benfica. On the left, Park’s industry and discipline against a good hard-working team could be vital. Young’s return to fitness may be a timely boost too. Ravel Morrison’s name is being mentioned a lot lately, he’s more likely to have to wait for the Crystal Palace game to play but a surprise appearance on the bench may not be out of the question.
Rooney’s fit again and should start behind Hernandez. Welbeck and Berbatov aren’t fully fit but are available whilst Macheda returns and Diouf is also fit.
Stopping Tiote and Cabaye – the best thing about Newcastle right now is that they play as a team. Singling out Tiote and Cabaye is almost a bit unfair however they are the cogs of the side. Hard-working, tough but perfectly able – they’ve become a very solid midfield pairing. Michael Cox writes that they are, “a perfect mixture of combativity and creativity”.
It sums up how important they’ve become to Newcastle that both have already been linked to Man United this season. The way to stop them though may seem surprisingly obvious; ignore them. United’s strengths are probably out wide so playing around them seems a sensible option. We won’t be able to go through them and Rooney, who’ll naturally want to drop deep, may find himself frustrated as Tiote and Cabaye will also probably drop deep.
Carrick and Fletcher may not be coming up against the league’s top ball-players but they’ll still have a new challenge ahead of them, coming up against a pairing that seem to mirror themselves in many ways. In this strange situation, the best way of stopping them will be to not engage them. United must cause Newcastle problems in other areas of the pitch.
History and last meeting:
This will be the 145th league meeting between the two sides – United have a winning record by some margin, winning nearly half of those games. In the Premier League era, 17 previous league meetings have taken place at Old Trafford with United winning eleven of them and not losing any. Newcastle have only managed 9 goals in those games, United have racked up 37.
This fixture has thrown up 3 goalless draws and on fifteen occasions United have scored four or more goals. In September 1927, Newcastle won 7-1 at Old Trafford and then followed that up three years later with a 7-4 win. However, since 1930, Newcastle have only scored more than two goals twice in this game.
Last year United beat Newcastle 3-0 at Old Trafford in a dominant performance on the opening Monday night of the season. Berbatov, Fletcher and Giggs were the scorers on a comfortable night in Manchester.
Newcastle have kept things very tight in games they’ve played this season but showed at Man City last weekend that they can concede goals. United are starting to crank into gear and have a wonderful record in the league against Newcastle, having not lost at home to them since 1972. I think Fergie’s men will get a fourth straight league victory and keep another league cleans sheet, so I’ll predict a 2-0 United win.
Mike Jones – a late replacement for Phil Dowd who’s ill. Jones will referee his third United game of the season. Jones will be the first referee to be given 10 Premier League games this season and has given out more yellow cards per game than anyone else (nearly five per game). He has an even split of 22 in the first half of games and 22 shown in the second half whilst he slightly favours the home side. He’s given out three red cards.
Three former Man United players are in the Newcastle squad – Danny Simpson, Alan Smith and Gabriel Obertan. United have long-time Newcastle fan, Michael Carrick and former player (but injured) Michael Owen.
– Man United have scored 10 league goals from set-pieces this season which is more than any other team
– Javier Hernadnez is yet to score at home this season
– The next away goal conceded by Newcastle will be the 500th they have let in during the Premier League era
Ferguson on Anderson: “He’s got this knee injury and we’ve sent him back to Portugal to see the specialist who operated on his knee last time. That’s a bit of a blow, we didn’t expect that one. So that’s the two midfield players who are going to be missing for a spell now.”
Ferguson on midfield signings: “It’s dead easy to say you’ll go out and buy players. But it’s not easy to buy players who are good enough for Manchester United, especially in January. I could choose two or three players who you’d like to have at this club who are not available. So there’s no point in even going there.”
Carrick on Newcastle: “They are my home-town club and the team I watched as a boy so it is great to see them at the top. The city is really thriving at the minute. They couldn’t have expected to be where they are if they took a realistic view because they have had such a hard time of it over the last couple of years.”
Obertan on leaving United: “When you leave a club, you always have that feeling – when you go back there, you want to prove that you are a better player, and I will try to do it.”
Simpson on returning to Old Trafford: “I always have something to prove to him (Sir Alex Ferguson). I’m a United fan and was there from when I was 11 until a couple of years ago. I had a good time, but I’m part of a good Newcastle team now. I go there looking to play well and at the back of my mind, like any player against their old club, to prove a point.”
Cabaye says Newcastle want to win: “We want to win against Manchester United. I think we can. We will be playing for a win on Saturday.”
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