Old Trafford, Manchester
December 26, 15:00 GMT
Boxing Day at Old Trafford pits Manchester United against Newcastle in a duel which usually brings out the best out of both the teams. Although, Pardew’s men have had a bit of mare so far this season, yet the Red Devils can hardly let their guard down against the side that took 4 points against them last season. United though, avenged last season’s results by humiliating the Barcodes in their own turf and also knocking them out of the Capital One cup.
Manchester United stuttered at the weekend as they were held to a draw at Liberty Stadium by Swansea City. The result saw the Old Trafford club’s lead cut down to 4 points at the top of the table. This was United’s first draw of the season and such results are expected over the course of a grueling league campaign. Sir Alex must take heart from the second half performance which should have ensured all three points had the strikers put one of the many chances away. Nevertheless, the festive season could provide United with a chance to regain their advantage with games coming thick and fast, ergo, the squad depth would be tested to the utmost.
Newcastle managed a hard fought win against fellow strugglers QPR thanks to Shola Ameobi’s goal. Alan Pardew and the Toon needed those points after a horrific run of form which had seen them drop precariously close to the dreaded relegation zone. A visit to Old Trafford at the best of times is hard enough and the form book points to the same, nonetheless, Newcastle must draw inspiration from their corresponding fixture of the season gone by. Also, with Sir Alex Ferguson looking to rotate his squad, there might be a chink amongst their ranks.
Team News & Tactical Brief
There are bound to be a few injury problems with fixtures coming thick and fast and players not having time to recover from their niggles. While Anderson and Nani are still recovering from their hamstring problems, Shinji Kagawa has returned to full training and the Japanese is not too far away from first team action. Rafael’s injury will also be assessed in the morning of the game while the manager will also be monitoring the situation of few players who were involved against Swansea on Sunday. Nemanja Vidic will surely be one of those as Fergie might want to take it easy with his captain this time after what happened the last time he returned to action at the start of the season with the Serbian having a recurrence of the injury which kept him out for most of the last campaign.
Injuries or not, the manager will be rotating his squad and take full advantage of the players at his disposal during the grueling festive period. Michael Carrick could be rested after having a exhausting outing against the Swans on Sunday. Darren Fletcher could take his place as the defensive midfielder with Cleverley taking the creative responsibilities alongside him in midfield. Antonio Valencia could also be dropped owing to the poor form shown by him in the last few games and if that turns out to be the case, Ashley Young could take his place on the right wing. Ryan Giggs, who performed admirably on Sunday as a substitute, could start on the left wing while Rooney and RvP are expected to start up front.
Rio Ferdinand shall return in defence alongside Jonny Evans while Chris Smalling could also play as a right-back if the manager decides to give Phil Jones a break as the former Blackburn man is also returning from injury and hence might not be risked with two games in four days.
It will be a typical formation by the manager that he usually deploys at Old Trafford. The two wide men will be hugging the touch-lines making full use of the width of the pitch while the full-backs will also be charging forward at every opportunity thus keeping the Magpies on the back foot. Rooney will be dropping in the hole forming the link between midfield and attack and van Persie will be on the shoulders of the last defenders creating problems for them with his constant movement.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Young, Fletcher, Cleverley, Giggs; Rooney; van Persie
Alan Pardew has been terribly unlucky this season as far as injuries to his key players are concerned. Yohan Cabaye, Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor are missing along with Hatem Ben Arfa who was injured at the worst possible time for the Magpies. Ben Arfa has been easily the most creative threat for Pardew this season and his loss will be difficult to deal with, especially at the home of Manchester United. To make matters worse for the visitors, Chieck Tiote picked up his fifth booking of the season against QPR and hence, is suspended for the game.
Tiote’s suspension will force the manager to make changes to his front six, one of which will be to give Anita a more central role in midfield rather than having him on the wings as has been the case in the last few games. He will be playing alongside James Perch, but with neither players being too creative, most of Newcatle’s attacks are expected from the wings or from set-pieces. Jonas Gutierrez will be playing on the left wing while former Red Gabriel Obertan is set to take the right wing. Up front it will be Demba Ba, who has been one of the few players in form for the Magpies this season, and he is expected to be partnered by Shola Ameobi – the match winner against QPR on Saturday. This implies that Pappis Cisse might be dropped to the bench due to his poor form this season.
At the back, it will be the familiar line-up of Danny Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson and Santon. Although there has been a bust up between the manager and Coloccini, yet the Argentine showed no signs of it against the Rangers on the weekend and Pardew will be expecting much the same from his captain on Boxing day as well. Danny Simpson will also be extra motivated to do well against his former club.
It won’t be a surprise if the visitors go out on the pitch to get a point with so many star names missing from their roster. However, the Magpies will be looking to take full advantage from set piece situations as the likes of Ba, Coloccini, Ameobi, Cisse etc. can be a handful for a struggling United defence, Also, there might be a lot of diagonal aerial balls directed towards Ba, who will be looking to out-muscle the home team’s defenders.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Krul; Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon; Obertan, Anita, Perch, Gutierrez; Ameobi, Ba
- Manchester United have lost just one of their past eighteen Boxing day fixtures, winning fifteen of them.
- The Red Devils have lost just one of their last twenty-two meetings against Newcastle – their 3-0 defeat in January.
- United’s draw against Swansea was their first in the league this season.
- Newcastle have not won at Old Trafford since 1972.
- Both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are one booking away from an automatic suspension.
Player To Watch Out For
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
Such has been the impact of the Dutchman’s arrival at the Theatre of Dreams at the start of the season, that the manager has compared him with club legend Eric Cantona. This is a no mean compliment coming from Sir Alex but van Persie deserves every praise for his heroics since the start of the season. He has got the ball rolling for United at home as all of his goals at the Old Trafford have come in the first half. Having failed to score in the last game, RvP will be keen to have his name on the score sheet and the Newcastle defence will have to be on top of their game to prevent him doing that.
Manchester United 3-1 Newcastle United
The Magpies will be in for a long night as they will have to face wave after wave of United attack. With key players missing, the priority for Pardew’s men will be containment, but it is extremely difficult to contain this United side who are brimming with attacking talent at the moment. It is hard to see beyond a home win for United in this game, although the visitors will pose some threat to the Red Devils’ defence, especially from set-pieces.