Manchester United travel to Newcastle on Wednesday night, looking to bounce back from their shock defeat at the hands of Blackburn on New Year’s Eve.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will take comfort from the fact that they remain unbeaten on the road with the best away record in the league. From the nine games they have played so far, the Reds have won seven and drawn two, scoring nineteen goals in the process. Equally impressive is the goals against column, which will tell you that the Red Devils have only shipped three on their travels, four better than any other team.
That record will certainly be put to the test, against a Newcastle side currently occupying 7th place in the league. Indeed, Newcastle will certainly raise their game in this classic encounter which has produced some memorable games down the years.
Both sides have handed out thrashings to each other, Newcastle putting five past the Reds in October 1996, although United more than made up for that result, trouncing the Magpies 6-0 in January 2008, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first hat trick for United.
Newcastle go into the game with only one win in their last eight, a run which has seen them slip out of the top six. The Reds, Blackburn aside, are in good form and had recorded successive 5-0 wins before an injury plagued team succumbed to a determined Rovers.
Team Selection Thoughts
David De Gea came in for criticism following his role in Blackburn’s winner at Old Trafford, but it is expected that Ferguson will keep faith with the youngster, despite Anders Lindergaard having kept six clean sheets in a row.
At the back, Man United will be without Chris Smalling, and long term absentee Nemanja Vidic, although the Reds look set to be boosted by the return of Rio Ferdinand. His experience was sorely missed last weekend and his calming influence would be a great advantage against the inform Demba Ba. He could be partnered by Phil Jones, who had an intriguing tussle with Yakubu on Saturday, though some would argue his better performances have come in central midfield. Patrice Evra should start at left back, and Rafael could continue down the right hand side after setting up Berbatov for the first goal, and linking well with Valencia for the second.
In the middle of the park, Michael Carrick should return to his usual position, after filling in at centre half in the last game. The creative midfielder had been one of the main reasons behind the United’s good form in recent weeks, keeping the team ticking over, even chipping in with an important goal at Queens Park Rangers. Hopefully, his rhythm won’t have been affected by his brief position change.
Carrick could be partnered by the returning Anderson, after the Brazilian international successfully completed 45 minutes against Blackburn. United’s tempo definitely increased in the second half and they will need to move the ball around quickly on Wednesday night, if they are to win the midfield battle. Ryan Giggs is the other alternative, and his experience could be useful in such an important game, taking into account his coolness when in possession.
Antonio Valencia has seven assists in his last five games, setting at least one up in each of those five, and looked very dangerous when he was moved from right back to right wing on Saturday. Therefore, he should maintain a starting place. Nani could continue on the left with Ashley Young still out, although Park could play there if Sir Alex opts for a more workmanlike team.
Up front, Wayne Rooney will return to the squad after being left out altogether at the weekend. Conflicting reports have circulated all week but it seems the situation has been dealt with and United can move on. The Reds will need Rooney firing, as they evidently missed his energy against Blackburn. Dimitar Berbatov has scored five in his last two games and you would think Sir Alex would play the Bulgarian considering his recent exploits. If that is the case, then Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck will have to settle for a place on the bench.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to St1pe from nufc-forum.com and asked his thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
I’m going to skip right past the weaknesses in your team because you may have a lot of injuries here and there, but in my opinion you have no gaping flaws that a team like ours could expect to exploit without a fair share of luck in our favour. That isn’t me being over overzealous with praise for Man United nor am I overly critical of our lot either it’s sadly just a fact of life.
As for formation, we played a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-1-1 against Liverpool. A formation I’ve been hoping we’d have a go at for weeks as the 4-4-2 has blatantly failed and descended into long balls, but alas we changed the formation and the same ‘give the ball back to the opposition’ persisted. Ideally I’d like to see this lineup: Krul; Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; Obertan, Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas; Ben Arfa, Ba.
We have the players to keep the ball on the floor and pass it around, but lately (I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing or not) we seem to have been bypassing anyone who can do anything with it and lumping the ball all over the place. Demba Ba is a goal machine, but we should have a plan b other than pump the ball to him as fast as physically possible. The most likely formation will probably be a 4-4-2 with Best or even Ameobi partnering Ba up front.
Form Since Last Meeting
Recently Newcastle have been poor, very poor in fact. The injury to Steven Taylor has had a bigger impact in our whole defensive line than I thought possible. It’s amazing how much damage James Perch can do to one team. Fortunately Williamson is back from a very long injury, but he looks like a player that has been injured for 6 months or so. My expectations, like the majority of our supporters I should probably add, is pretty much the same. I never really expected us to go the distance with any of the squads in the top 6, but assuming we can pull our fingers out again I don’t see why we can’t top the rest of the pile. Anywhere in the top 10 is an improvement though and that’s all a fan can ask for really, especially a one that has seen so many ups and downs like we have lately.
How has Obertan fared since the article you wrote for Stretford End Arising?
St1pe’s article from earlier in the season: Gabriel Obertan Watch: How The Former Manchester United Player Is Faring
I have a nasty habit as a fan/forum poster to rigidly defend a player that comes under scrutiny by fellow supporters (unless said player is blatantly costing the team points) and even I’m struggling to defend Obertan at the minute. The lad isn’t doing anything wrong really, but the problem is he isn’t really doing anything at all. He has had a couple of games where he has been decent enough, Stoke away was probably his best game for us getting an assist and for 10 minutes vs. Bolton he looked like a world beater, but sadly in half a season that’s all the positives I can say about him. The rest of the time he has been anonymous and a growing number of supporters are starting to turn on him. What is probably more worrying is that we don’t have a single player in the squad that can play wide right though so I’m not sure how criticising the lad is going to help the team but what do I know. Fans are strange sometimes.
Andy Carroll and Demba Ba
I would take Carroll back tomorrow. I still think he’s a great player, but it obviously isn’t working out for him at Liverpool. But who would want to play for Liverpool anyway? We keep getting their whingey supporters on our forum coming up with things only a Liverpool fan could make up. Anyway back on topic… I was gutted when Carroll left, even for £35m, and a lot of fans have turned on him/forgotten how good he was for us, but he and Ba up front could be deadly.
Ba has surprised everyone he is going through one of those patches where everything he hits looks like going to go in. He also has the best movement from a striker I have seen in a very very long time at this club. We’ll be knackered when he goes away to the African Cup of Nations. I prey the lad doesn’t get injured!
Haris Vuckic. I might have mentioned him last time I did this for your website as you were rumoured to have an interest in him a few years back when he was coming through our ranks. Vuckic made his full debut recently and looks like he could be a real talent. He hit the crossbar twice from long range in Newcastle’s fixture against West Brom plus he supplied a couple of inventive through balls. He’s an attacking midfielder that looks well suited as a number 10 and despite looking a tad shell shocked at Anfield last week I expect you may hear more of him as the season goes on.
Three Key Battles
Demba Ba vs. Phil Jones
Demba Ba has been in fantastic form for Newcastle this season with 14 goals already, and he will be looking to add to that tally before he jets off to play in the African Cup of Nations. Much has been made of Phil Jones’ best position, but he has impressed wherever he has played and I believe he is adept in either role. However his credentials will be tested against an inform Ba. Success in this game could hinge on how well United deal with him.
Wayne Rooney vs. Fabricio Coloccini
Rooney will be desperate to return to action having missed the defeat to Blackburn, and United will need him to be at his energetic best. He started the season on fire, before going eight games without a goal, although he has been more influential recently. Coloccini has been one of Newcastle’s best performers so far this season, but has a tendency to lose his cool if things aren’t going his way. If Rooney can get the upper hand in the duel then United will be well on their way to three points.
Michael Carrick vs. Cheick Tiote
Carrick has been back to his best, after having a run of games without injury. The Red Devils are much more fluid when he starts, and the passing seems sharper. Newcastle are much the same with Tiote in their side, and some big teams have been rumoured to be circulating around the midfielder. The player who wins this battle will be key in their side’s fortunes.
United need a response after the disappointment of Saturday and with one or two key players back, they are in a good position to do so. Newcastle will be no pushovers though, and in Ba they have an out and out goal scorer who can take a chance out of nowhere. However I feel that the Reds will react positively and come away from the North East with a good result.
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