There’s a funny feeling coming into this one. It was the exact fixture that really kick-started our campaign in the second half of last season, however our home form has been horrific so far – with 7 defeats, 1 draw and 2 wins in 10 at St James’ Park.
We did pretty well at Watford, putting in a solid display after a bit of a battering at Anfield, but we all know we can pick up points on the road – it’s our performances at home that need to seriously improve in 2019 if we’re going to beat the drop this time around.
I’d like to bet that we get right up for this one and are MUCH better than we were at home to Fulham in our pre-Christmas stalemate on Tyneside, however it looks like Man Utd have turned the corner just when we didn’t want them to.
Although Mourinho had to go, I’m a firm believer that the players weren’t pulling their weight under Jose and essentially played to get him sacked. Solksjaer has clearly had a positive effect on them, with them suddenly playing with more freedom, flair and energy, but I’d like to bet that is more to do with Mourinho leaving than the influence Solksjaer’s arrival itself. To me they’ve shown a lack of respect for the club paying them and the fans watching them this season, so I for one would like to spoil Solksjaer’s honeymoon period with a big win of our own.
There’s talk that the ‘shackles are off’ their star men all of a sudden – and that shows given they’ve scored 12 goals in their last three games – but I still believe they have a soft centre and have not been tested defensively in their last three. We need to get into them from the off, fight for every ball with an intensity the likes of Pogba and Martial will struggle to handle and make sure we get balls into Rondon at every given opportunity.
We won’t beat them if it comes down to individual quality, but collectively we can get the better of them.
As ever, here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
Not a great deal to say on the team this week really.
If Fernandez does miss this one (after limping off at half time on Saturday) then it’ll be Schar who comes in.
In midfield I’d like to see Shelvey to partner Diame to give us that bit more quality and creativity from the middle, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Rafa stuck with Hayden given Shelvey’s lack of match fitness.
Kenedy was left out at Watford and will be pushing for a recall but Atsu was outstanding at the weekend and fully deserves another chance. The big test will be seeing if he can keep his performances at that level – with him being the sort of player who has struggles to put together strong back-to-back displays.
As said earlier, we’ll need to get balls into Rondon – our sole threat in attack these days. Given how well he’s got crosses in from the left in our last two, Ritchie’s deliveries will be key – so I’m really hoping Rafa keeps him on the left.
Predicted NUFC team – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie – Diame, Shelvey – Atsu, Perez – Rondon.
Here’s some of my ‘ones to watch’ in Man Utd’s side:
Paul Pogba – He’s come alive since Mourinho left, delivering 4 goals and 3 assists in Solksjaer’s opening three games in charge. He’s now playing in a more advanced role ahead of their two central midfielders and has looked a different player in the last few weeks.
Marcus Rashford – He’s played in a central striker role since Solksjaer took over and is another who’s immediately responded well to their more attacking and fluid style of play. His skill for their opener against Bournemouth on Sunday was outrageous. Martial is another, who could torment Yedlin if the American isn’t at it defensively.
Victor Lindelof – He’s another who’s done well following the change of manager, however he’s not the biggest of centre-backs and may struggle if we get good balls into Rondon. That battle could be one to watch.
Predicted Man Utd – (4-2-3-1) – De Gea – Young, Jones, Lindelof, Shaw – Matic, Herrera – Rashford, Pogba, Martial – Lukaku.
Fernandez could miss out with a hip injury sustained on Saturday and Clark looks set to miss out once again – as will Ki who’s away at the Asian Cup.
For them, Bailly is suspended at centre-back after his straight red during their 4-1 win over Bournemouth. Rashford came off with a groin complaint but he looks like he’ll be fine. Lukaku and Sanchez will be pushing for a chance in the side after returning to training.
It may have been a point, but it doesn’t feel like we can get any worse than we were vs Fulham last time out at St James’.
I expect us to be ‘at it’ under the lights and play with much more intensity than we have in recent home games, but Man Utd look like a totally different animal so could run away with it if we don’t out-run and out-battle them in every department.
I think we’ll have our moments but I see them having a bit too much for us unfortunately. This is a game that could start out second-half of the season push towards safety, but they’re full of confidence all of a sudden and we really are struggling at home, so I’m not feeling too confident unfortunately.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-2 Man Utd
Howay the lads!