Manchester United – Newcastle (Premier League)
Last Wednesday saw Roberto Martínez collecting as many points in one match as David Moyes in the entirety of his 11-year period as Everton boss, as Manchester United conceded a 1-0 defeat, courtesy of the Toffees’ left-back Brian Oviedo. This defeat halted United’s 12-match unbeaten streak and, with two draws before last Wednesday’s shocker, a win here will therefore be crucial. With the Red Devils sitting in 9th in the table, a mere point behind 7th-placed Newcastle, the three points would see Manchester United leapfrogging Saturday’s opponents.
Despite their current spot in the Premier League table and the 12 points that separate Manchester United and league leaders Arsenal, David Moyes said that he still believe his team had a decent chance of winning the title. However, with the trophy surely just a mirage now, the Scot would do better if he started worrying about the places that grant access to the Champions League, since being booted out of Europe’s top competition would probably be too much for United supporters to bear. The flop against Everton means that Moyes’ charges were only able to pick up two meagre points over their last three matches, a tally that hardly spells good news for a team aiming to revalidate their title. In fact, the Mancunians have now lost 4 Premier League matches so far, just one fewer than the whole of last season (a far cry from a good form indicator). Adding insult to injury, the talismanic Wayne Rooney – in essence the only United player pulling his own weight, and then some – will be suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season. The team will most certainly miss his goals, assists and grittiness, particularly after realising once more that their midfield has yet to fire on all cylinders, probably one of the reasons why the manager insists on promoting changes in that area game after game. Phil Jones will be available once again after his suspension and may provide some much-needed stability in the centre, but none of Cleverley, Giggs or Fellaini have been able to provide the creative spark that such a powerhouse club needs, which may explain in part why United have a paltry tally of 8 goals in 7 Premier League home games, fewer than bottom-dwellers Sunderland (9). Therefore, the yet unconfirmed return of Robin Van Persie – who has scored 6 goals in his last 7 Premier League starts against Newcastle – is of greater importance than ever. While it’s true that United have not lost back-to-back home matches since May 2002, it bears mentioning that they have only won 5 of their last 11 Premier League home matches, including 4 defeats. On the other hand, defenders might have something to say on this one, since both Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra were on the score sheet the last two times these teams met. On the injury front, Michael Carrick is certain to sit this one out, while Robin Van Persie is still in doubt.
Probable line-up: De Gea – Smalling, Evans, Vidic, Evra – Jones, Cleverley – Valencia, Kagawa, Welbeck – Van Persie
Last Wednesday was not a good day for Newcastle United either, a controversy-ridden 3-0 defeat at the hands of Swansea halting a four-match winning run. In fact, the team’s recent results (which included victories over Chelsea and Tottenham) meant Alan Pardew and Tim Krul picked up the honours as best manager and best player, respectively, in November. Their current position in the table means there will be considerably less pressure for the Magpies, who have won none of their last 29 visits to Old Trafford (their last away success against United harks back to 1972) and have defeated United just once over their last 21 Premier League matches overall. However, Everton’s first victory at Old Trafford in 21 years might be the push Pardew’s men needed to believe there’s a glimmer of hope of taking something more this season. While their away track record shows just 5 wins in their last 27 away matches (including 15 defeats), it is relevant to point out that they have won four and drawn another four matches in their latest eight away league matches. Newcastle’s counterpart to Evra and Evans is Papiss Cissé, who scored both times these teams met last season at Old Trafford (Premier League and Capital One Cup). Even though he missed the Swansea match, both he and Hatem Ben Arfa are expected to recover for Saturday’s game.
Probable line-up: Krul – Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon – Sissoko, Tiote, Cabaye, Gouffran – Shola Ameobi, Remy
With Manchester United in desperate need of a win and a convincing display and Newcastle United in pretty decent form, an open, entertaining match is likely to be expected. Moreover, neither team has been exactly airtight at the back, so we might just be in for a goal-scoring feast when Saturday’s first match comes.