Newcastle United host Manchester United this evening when Sir Alex Ferguson brings his Red Devils to St James’ Park.
A sell out crowd is expected as fans take advantage of the comforts of playing closer to home – a comfort that was once again denied to Newcastle courtesy of the curious fixture list and it’s tendency to have us on the road for the festive period.
Unfortunately I don’t think there is going to be much comfort throughout the game tonight. Optimists will point towards Manchester United’s ever-growing injury list, the defeat against Blackburn and Wayne Rooney’s antics over the Christmas period as reasons why we could sneak a result, but the reality is that we face a team that is yet to lose a Premier League away game this season. In fact they are the only top flight team to do so.
Gabriel Obertan injured his toe against Liverpool and rumours started circulating suggesting that the French wing wizard would be out for up to a month. However Alan Pardew has revealed that Obertan is in with a shout of playing against his former employers providing he can pass a fitness test.
Otherwise Pardew has a fully fit squad to choose from aside from the usual suspects of Steven Taylor, Sylvain Marveaux, Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands although the latter two are edging closer to a return to first-team action.
Alex Ferguson will be without the services of Nemanja Vidic, Ashley Young, Fabio, Tom Cleverley, Michael Owen and Jonny Evans for the trip to Tyneside while Chris Smalling only has an “outside chance” of returning to the team.
Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney are all poised to return to the starting line-up for Sir Alex Ferguson with Rooney having sat out the defeat against Blackburn after an alleged disciplinary issue involving himself and Darron Gibson with some absences from training.
Facts and Stats
Newcastle are one of only five sides who have take points off of Manchester United this season.
Alan Pardew has led his side to two draws in his last two games against the Red Devils.
Newcastle last beat Manchester United in 2001 edging a seven goal thriller 4-3. They’ve failed to register another victory in 19 attempts since.
Shola Ameobi is still looking for his 50th Premier League goal.
Newcastle have earned less points against Manchester United in the Premier League than any other team. Only 21 points have been won from a possible 105.
Thoughts and ponderings
Well where do we start? I guess we have to start by looking at the opposition. Don’t let the defeat to Blackburn fool you – they are still very very dangerous and will have some big hitters back in the side against us, namely Wayne Rooney who has a canny knack of finding the back of the net against us for a start.
Speaking of Rooney, there is a real danger that he will come back wanting to prove a point after his, ahem, alleged party shenanigans over the Christmas period. In fairness though there is an equal chance that he could flip the lid and do something reckless. Perhaps that is something worth slipping into the pre-match team-talk?
It won’t just be Rooney who will want to bounce back though. The whole Manchester United squad will want to avenge the defeat against Blackburn and get back to winning ways. Not just for pride, but also to keep track with big spending Manchester City who beat Liverpool last night.
However as much as I expect the Red Devils to be fired up for the match, I also expect Alan Pardew to have his side fired up for the game. They will want to show that they can perform after what can only be described as an abject performance at Anfield last time out. Players such as Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba will want to sign off with a win before they head away to the African Cup of Nations – a win that will restore some of the feel good factor that has gone missing in recent weeks.
It would be easy to say that we should go and attack Man Utd given that we are the home team, but the reality is that football just isn’t like that. Manchester United are better than us and have players who can hurt us in an instant. We’ll have to be more measured as a team and take our chances when they come along.
That shouldn’t be a problem providing the chances fall to Demba Ba, but beyond that we seem to be struggling to find the back of the net. This makes the formation we pick, and personnel to fit that formation, key for the game tomorrow. Put simply, is it time for Ben Arfa? Or, after Liverpool and our attacking impotence, do we plump for two strikers and play Leon Best up top with Ba?
I’d play a second striker alongside Demba Ba to be honest. We were spineless up front against Liverpool which led to pressure being put on our defence which is when the mistakes started to come into play. I know Best isn’t the, well, best, but I do think he can hold the ball up better than Shola which will come in handy against Wayne Rooney and Co.
Then we just need to sort the supply line, which is becoming a problem. Ever since Sylvain Marveaux got injured the performances of our wingers, BOTH wingers I’ll add, has been woeful. Neither look like creating too much and when they do it almost looks as though it’s a fluke rather than intentional. Perhaps this game will give Gabriel Obertan the impetus to prove his former employers, and a lot of fans of his current employers, wrong? Jonas will do his usual, and he’ll get the usual defence. He’ll earn us some free-kicks and work hard for the team but is that all we want from an attacking winger? I’d say no and it’s time for him to show why he earned that new contract of his!
I’m not too fussed about the middle of the park. Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote are our strongest midfield pairing on paper and if they both turn up they can match any other central midfield pairing in the league in my view. That just leaves the defence who will need to be disciplined for the whole match, especially the full backs. I’d be tempted to play Davide Santon instead of Ryan Taylor who looked ropey to say the least at Anfield.
So what can we hope for tonight? Well obviously a win is the ultimate and a draw wouldn’t be the end of the world neither. Most importantly though I’m looking for the performance to be up there. There is no place to hide at St James’ Park and the players will be urged on to give their all by the fans. The atmosphere will be electric, as it always seems to be at night at the Cathedral on the Hill, and Sky will be there to catch the lot so the players will have a truly worldwide audience to perform to.
We’ll need some luck along the way – not many teams outplay Man Utd in fairness – but I don’t think we can turn to the referee for a helping hand. Howard Webb takes charge of the game so we’re already a big decision down as, inevitably, most things will go the way of the United in red.
That is something we’ll have to overcome if we are to get anything from this game.
Howay the lads!
Date: Wednesday, 4th January, 2012
Venue: St James’ Park, Newcastle