It’s been a long few weeks, with the international break arriving on the back of consecutive defeats to Burnley and Bournemouth in the league.
I’m not expecting us to get back to winning ways tomorrow, but it would be a huge boost if we can put in a performance and get some sort of result at Old Trafford.
An obvious statement to make, but I’m expecting this to be a real tough test.
For one, I expect a backlash from Mourinho’s side after a patchy run of form, having recently suffered defeats away to Chelsea and Huddersfield in two of their last four league games.
Lukaku is without a goal in seven but has bagged a few on international duty with Belgium so will be looking to get back amongst the goals tomorrow – meaning our Lascelles-less back-line must stand up to the test.
We must improve our efficiency in-front of goal significantly if we want to get a result here. The fact we’ve scored just one in our last three and that combined with the fact Man Utd haven’t conceded a goal at Old Trafford all season is a little ominous!
I always have hope that we can pull off a shock result when we have Rafa Benitez in charge, but realistically, failure to get any points tomorrow won’t define our season.
An improved performance is essential however, allowing us to head into far more winnable games against Watford and West Brom in better stead in our next two.
With Lascelles and Atsu ruled out and Merino also failing to recover in time, Rafa will be forced into making a few untimely changes here.
The capable Ciaran Clark will no doubt come in for Jamaal Lascelles. The skippers presence and leadership at the back could be a real miss – especially up against the monstrous Romelu Lukaku – but it’s worth remembering that only a few months ago, Clark and Lejeune were our first choice centre-backs.
They looked assured alongside each other over pre-season and started the opening game of the season in the defeat to Spurs, so hopefully they can put in a big performance tomorrow – you get the feeling they’ll need to.
It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see Rafa change the system in an attempt to combat against United’s various threats, but if he reverts back to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, Atsu’s absence will leave a hole to fill on the left wing.
£10m summer signing Jacob Murphy appears to be the obvious replacement, however he looked like a rabbit in the headlights in his brief outing against Bournemouth last time out, so I’m not convinced Rafa will throw him into the deep end here under the TV cameras at Old Trafford.
That leaves Rolando Aarons. He’s been nowhere to be seen on the senior front this season aside from an impressive cup outing against Forest, but he’d by my preferred option if we were looking for a like-for-like Atsu replacement. He comes across a little more fearless and might benefit from being handed a his chance in the first-team tomorrow?
One thing’s for certain, I really don’t see Rafa sticking with 4-4-2. I actually though Gayle and Joselu linked up nicely at times in the first half against Bournemouth, but it left us short in midfield and allowed them to get in behind us and run at our defence more than Benitez would have liked to see.
They’ll have 60% plus possession no doubt, so I see Perez coming back in for this one in a bid to defend from the front.
That leaves Rafa with another big decision to make up top. I imagine he’ll pick Joselu given Gayle’s lack of physicality and presence to lead the line on his own, however I’m not expecting us to get many chances – and Joselu tends to need a few to score.
Gayle looked sharper than he has done last time out, so I’d be inclined to give him another run in the team, although I’m not sure there’s a place for him in there should Rafa stick to one up top?
There’ll be calls for Mitrovic no doubt, but I think it’s time we accepted he’s just not in Rafa’s plans. I’d be pleasantly surprised if he was a shock inclusion in the side tomorrow, I just don’t see it unfortunately.
The talent in Man United’s side speaks for itself.
Lukaku will be on the look out for a goal after going seven games without one at club level, whilst the direct and lightning quick threats of Martial and Rashford out wide will be extremely hard to contain.
Yedlin may be quick, but he’ll have to be at his best to contain whichever on of those starts out on the left.
Matic is a big presence in the middle, being extremely capable midfielder with and without the ball, whilst goalkeeper David De Gea is arguably the worlds best right now.
Mourinho has suggested that Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be back in the United squad for tomorrow’s game.
I expect neither to start, but it’ll give them a boost to have them back around the place – especially when you look at how good they’ve been when Pogba’s featured this season:
— Manchester United (@ManUtdUpdates_) November 6, 2017
For an inside look into tomorrow’s opposition, see this week’s edition of ‘The Opposition Opinion’ where we’ve gained the thoughts of some Man Utd fans we’ve been speaking to this week.
Newcastle – 11th (14 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 1 / Drawn: 2 / Lost: 2
Man Urd – 2nd –(23 pts) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 2 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 2
Jamaal Lascelles (ankle) and Christian Atsu (thigh) have been ruled out of the game by Rafa today, whilst Mikel Merino remains OUT with a back injury.
On the plus side, Paul Dummett is back in training, but tomorrow’s game will come too soon for him once again.
Jose Mourinho has confirmed that long-term absentees Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo are in contention to return on Saturday – suggesting they will feature tomorrow night.
On the plus side, first-team centre-back Phil Jones is set to miss out with a thigh problem however.
Newcastle United XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Lejeune, Clark, Manquillo – Hayden, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez , Aarons – Joselu
Manchester Utd XI – (4-2-3-1) – De Gea – Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Young – Matic, Herrera – Mata, Mkhitaryan, Rashford – Lukaku.
As you can see, we’ve not beaten Man Utd in our last five outings, although I’m sure we’d all take a 0-0 draw like we achieved in our last visit to Old Trafford in 2015.
Make no mistake, this will be our toughest test of the season when all things are considered.
We’re under pressure to respond after back-to-back defeats, but are playing a side 2nd in the league, with players returning from injury and a mean defence that hasn’t conceded at home all season.
I think we’ll be compact and frustrate them at times, but I don’t see us having enough to get a result here.
Providing we don’t concede early, I don’t see this one being a drubbing, but I do think we won’t have enough to stop them or trouble them at the other end.
Hopefully I’m proved wrong! A big performance and result would be a huge bonus after a sobering few weeks.
Prediction: Man Utd 2-0 Newcastle
Howay the lads!