Manchester United travel to St. James’ Park on Sunday afternoon, looking to bounce back from their disappointing defeat to Tottenham, and keep pace with early league leaders Chelsea.
Last weekend, the Red Devils slipped to a rare home defeat, going down 3-2 to Spurs at Old Trafford. A terrible first half performance saw the Reds go in 2-0 down at the break, and despite a fantastic second 45 minutes, United couldn’t stop Andre Villas-Boas becoming the first manager to see a Tottenham side win there for 23 years.
The performance offered positives and negatives in equal measure, with the second half demonstrating United at their free flowing attacking best, and the first half showing United at their uncharacteristic, turgid worst.
Without question, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will have to reproduce their second half performance when they take on Newcastle, as last season’s game in the North East shows. The Red Devils were outfought, out battled and ultimately defeated. Demba Ba scored with a superb hooked effort, Yohan Cabaye curled in a spectacular free kick, and Phil Jones scored a calamitous own goal, which summed up United’s performance on the day.
The result came only days after United had lost at Old Trafford to a relegation threatened Blackburn side, and there are notable similarities between then and now. The Reds had just lost 3-2 at home and Newcastle, aided by the lethal Demba Ba, were in form. This time both sides will have strikers in form, with Robin van Persie looking to do to Newcastle what Ba did to the Reds.
Last season aside, St James’ Park has been a happy hunting ground for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men down the years, with notable victories including a 5-1 win during the 2007/2008 season, and the famous 6-2, when Paul Scholes grabbed a hat trick. Cristiano Ronaldo repeated that feat albeit this time at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils ran riot in a 6-0 win. It certainly won’t be as easy as that on Sunday.
Newcastle head into the game in good form, and are unbeaten in their last four games. Indeed they have only lost once this season, one less than United, and in Ba and Papiss Cisse, they have a lethal combination up front. Add to that the craft of Ben Arfa and the creativity of Cabaye and the Reds could be in for a long afternoon if they fail to perform.
Team Selection Thoughts
The dilemma of which goalkeeper to start just won’t go away and it has impacted upon United’s ability to keep clean sheets. The Reds have only stopped their opponents scoring once in the league this season, against Wigan at home, and have already shipped nine goals. David de Gea, who has been out of favour in the league, impressed once again on Tuesday night making a string of superb saves, and was vital in securing the Red Devils three points. He could be reinstated on Sunday against a potent Newcastle side, although Sir Alex may keep faith with Lindegaard despite the Dane conceding three goals at home to Spurs last week.
In defence, the Reds have been boosted by the news that Jonny Evans is fit after suffering a dead leg, and Chris Smalling has returned to training. With Nemanja Vidic out for the foreseeable future, it’s vital that United keep their centre halves fit, otherwise the balance of the team is dramatically impinged and the concession of goals will continue. Rio Ferdinand’s fitness will be imperative to United’s success on the pitch, and after being omitted from the England squad, there is more chance for him to remain sharp and fully focussed on United. Rafael has made a good start to the season and will continue at right back with Evra probably on the left, although Alex Buttner is pushing for a start, and after numerous defensive lapses by the Frenchman, Buttner could be named in the 11.
The Reds have Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs all available for the trip to the North East after the trio missed the midweek game in Romania. Scholes and Carrick should start but Giggs will probably drop to the bench after a disappointing first half performance last week. Shinji Kagawa should also return to the starting line up after sitting out the champions league tie and he is finding his feet with two goals already. Out wide, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young unfortunately remain sidelined, which means Nani will start. The enigmatic Portuguese winger scored last week and put in a much better performance. If he comes into some form, the Reds will benefit from his pace and trickery.
Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie started together for the first time on Tuesday night, resulting in two goals for van Persie and two assists for Rooney. If the pair can strike up a partnership then United will score plenty of goals, and on Sunday they might have to, to defeat a very good Newcastle outfit. As ever, Welbeck and Hernandez will offer spark from the bench.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of nufc-forum.com and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Sunday’s encounter will be a close game, but I suspect Man United will win. Defensively Newcastle have not been solid this season so I can’t see us handling van Persie and Rooney – particularly if Coloccini isn’t fit. I hope Pardew plays 4-3-3 because we simply play better football when he does, and given some of your defensive absentees I’d like us to have a go. Sitting back and hoping for a tight point isn’t likely to get us far. If we attack and press we may have a chance, because United have looked pretty vulnerable when teams have rushed you. Pardew may also need to stick Tiote on Rooney because he has stifled him in previous fixtures; otherwise Rooney has historically taken us apart.
The majority were angry and perplexed at his appointment but results speak for themselves and he’s won many over. He can be quite negative at times and should go for the jugular a bit more (especially against weaker sides) but overall we’re very satisfied with our progress under him.
He’s passionate, seems committed to his job, conducts himself well (most of the time), and seems to get the best out of average players, although his tactics and team selections can be frustrating. Most fans can see that Ba & Cisse are struggling to gel as a partnership, but he is sticking with 4-4-2, which is a surprise given the formation doesn’t suit our best players and last season’s impressive performances came when 4-3-3 was used.
How far into those 8 years he gets remains to be seen but we wholly support the objective of stability. Overall he’s doing a good job.
Season expectations are not higher because of last season’s achievements – and we hate the way the media keeps totting this out – most fans don’t think we’ll finish 5th again, because of Europa League commitments, because we’re ‘on the radar’ as more of a threat, and the fact that Chelsea will certainly move above us this year. Many were disappointed that we didn’t field a stronger side in the League Cup against you last week, as we would like to see a push for domestic cups this year, but we’ve got quite a thin squad really and you can’t have everything. I think we’ll finish 7th, and we’ll be satisfied with that.
Hmm, that’s tricky, as Ashley has been responsible for some shambles in his time – he seems to have learned from (and apologized for) the mistakes though, and the push for stability on and off the pitch is definitely to be celebrated. He seems to have Newcastle running on a good financial footing and some of the things he’s done like reducing cup ticket prices is pleasing. With that said, you can’t shake off the feeling that one decent offer for the club and he’ll be off. Communication with fans is minimal and many of us wonder if he’s just using the club to advertise his sports shop. The jury’s still out.
The very latest – i.e. as of Thursday night’s game – is that he might be improving but not quickly enough. Pardew played him on the left and it was his best game for us. Generally though we find him very frustrating – he looks like a good player, and then gives you plenty more reasons for thinking he isn’t. His next game could well be shocking. He has no football brain in terms of awareness of what’s around him. We wouldn’t mind if he moved on but unfortunately he isn’t having a lot of pressure put on him from Marveaux at the moment so he’ll be sticking around.
Three Key Battles
Robin Van Persie vs. Mike Williamson
Van Persie has seven goals in eight games for Manchester United this season and if he stays fit he could well break his record of 37 goals last season. The Reds will need to take their chances on Sunday and in van Persie they have someone who can score goals nothing. Williamson will have to be at the very top of his game to deny van Persie, and with the likes of Rooney and Kagawa providing the ammunition he could well add to his tally of seven goals.
Demba Ba vs. Rio Ferdinand
Ba scored 16 goals last season and has already found the net six times this term, making him the top scorer in the Premier League. When the Reds last visited the North East, Ba caused United all sorts of problems and scored a wonderful goal to give Newcastle the lead. Ferdinand will have to mark Ba very tightly to ensure he doesn’t have any space otherwise the prolific number 19 will hurt the Red Devils.
Paul Scholes vs. Yohan Cabaye
Scholes has once again been United’s best midfielder this season. He was fantastic against Tottenham last week completing well over 100 passes, and he changed the game when coming on at Anfield and St Mary’s to orchestrate United victories. If Scholes can get on the ball then United will create chances but the same can be said of Cabaye, who has a fantastic range of passes. Whoever comes out on top in this battle could effectively win the game for their team.
Newcastle away is one of the toughest fixtures in Premier League calendar. The crowd is vociferous and if they get on top it becomes very difficult to contain them. Without question United have the quality and ability to win the game, however they will first and foremost have to defend properly to give them a platform to attack. With Ba, Cisse and Ben Arfa, the Magpies have plenty of goals in them, but United have van Persie, Rooney, Nani and Kagawa; arguably an even more potent attacking line up. This game could go either way and the Reds will have to be at the top of their game. However they will want to bounce back after last weekend’s defeat, and when United are fired up they can be unplayable.
Newcastle United vs. Manchester United match day thread HERE.
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