Manchester United will be eager to return to winning ways when they welcome Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The games continue to come thick and fast in the busy festive period in the Premier League, with the annual Boxing Day round of fixtures on Thursday. The penultimate game of the day will see Manchester United play hosts to Newcastle United, looking to bounce back after a shock defeat this past weekend.

It has been a topsy turvy season for Manchester United, with the youthful squad struggling for consistency. This tendency to blow hot and cold has been exhibited once again in recent games, as after beating Tottenham and Manchester City in consecutive games, the Red Devils have failed to win their last two Premier League games, suffering a shock 2-0 loss to Watford last time out.

Newcastle United, on the other hand, were touted to be in a relegation battle heading into the season. However, Steve Bruce has enabled the squad to resume displaying the gritty nature that they were accustomed to under Rafael Benitez. The Magpies have shown this resilience in recent games, losing just one of their last five games to rise up to ninth on the Premier League table.

The reverse fixture, back in October, saw Manchester United suffer a shock 1-0 defeat, with Matty Longstaff scoring the solitary goal for Newcastle. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Manchester United

Manchester United will be eager to bounce back against Newcastle United. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Manchester United will be eager to bounce back against Newcastle United. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has seen his squad’s injury woes ease up in recent weeks, particularly with the return of talisman Paul Pogba. Against Newcastle United on Thursday, the Manchester United boss will have just three first-team players unavailable, namely Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

The return of Pogba, though, changes things for Manchester United, who should have more creativity flowing through midfield. With Pogba now available, Solskjaer should change his formation, reverting to a more fluid 4-3-3.

Jesse Lingard is likely to be the man to make way for Pogba, who should have Scott McTominay and Fred as his partners in the middle of the park. The three-pronged attack should have Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James, even though there appears to be an urge to give young Mason Greenwood a shot.

At the back, there could be one change in the offing, with Manchester United captain Ashley Young replacing Luke Shaw on the left side of the defence. Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire will resume their central defensive partnership, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka will continue as the right-back.

The spotlight, meanwhile, will be on David de Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper made a high profile error, which was the catalyst in Manchester United’s defeat to Watford. Solskjaer, though, is expected to keep faith in de Gea, even though Sergio Romero remains an option at his disposal.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young; McTominay, Fred, Pogba; James, Martial, Rashford

Manchester United

Newcastle United

Steve Bruce does not have any fresh injury concerns hampering his preparations before his side’s trip to face Newcastle United. On Thursday, however, the Newcastle United manager could be without as many as seven first-team players.

Among those unavailable, club captain Jamaal Lascelles is the major absentee due to a long-term knee injury. Apart from Lascelles’s absence, the left-back spot is a major source of concern, with Matt Ritchie, Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett all on the sidelines.

The trio’s unavailability means Javier Manquillo could be deployed as a makeshift left-back against Manchester United. On the opposite flank, DeAndre Yedlin is a certain starter, with Fabian Schar, Florian Lejuene and Federico Fernandez forming a three-man central defensive partnership. Martin Dubravka will take his place between the sticks as always.

There could be one change up ahead, which would entail a shift in formation, with Bruce preferring a 5-4-1 against Manchester United. Sean Longstaff could come into the side in place of Andy Carroll, meaning Joelinton will lead spearhead the Newcastle attack.

Longstaff will likely have Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Miguel Almiron for company in the middle of the park, with the quartet being tasked with staying compact and create overloads in midfield. Longstaff and Almiron will take up advanced positions when Newcastle press forward, with Yedlin and Manquillo providing the width in the final third.

Probable Lineup (5-4-1): Dubravka; Yedlin, Fernandez, Schar, Lejeune, Manquillo; Longstaff, Shelvey, Hayden, Almiron; Joelinton

Newcastle

Key Stats

  • Manchester United have lost just one of their last 34 top-flight home meetings with Newcastle United (W24 D9), going down 0-1 in December 2013 under David Moyes.
  • In Premier League history, Manchester United have won more games (20) and have a higher win ratio (80 per cent) on Boxing Day than any other side in the competition. Meanwhile, Newcastle United have lost more games on the day than any other side (13).
  • Manchester United have never lost a game on Boxing Day at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, with their last league defeat at home coming back in 1978 (0-3 vs Liverpool), winning 15 and drawing three such games since.
  • Manchester United are on a Premier League club record run of 13 matches without a clean sheet.
  • In 10 away Premier League games at Old Trafford as a manager, Steve Bruce has lost nine matches, drawing the other.

Player to Watch

Paul Pogba

Set to start, will Paul Pogba deliver? (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Set to start, will Paul Pogba deliver? (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

2019-20 has been quite a frustrating season for Paul Pogba, who has been sidelined with injuries for much of the campaign. The Frenchman finally returned to action at Watford this past weekend, albeit in a losing cause. During his cameo though, Pogba made a world of difference for Manchester United, who carried a far greater threat with him on the field.

Newcastle United will likely be an equally frustrating opponent for Manchester United to deal with if not more. In such a scenario, Pogba’s importance only increases, with the team looking towards their talisman to break through a stubborn defence and set up the runners in Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Daniel James. A pivotal player for Manchester United.

Prediction

Manchester United 1-0 Newcastle United

Manchester United do not help themselves, do they? Chances are, whenever they enjoy the bulk of the possession, the opposition would fancy themselves to break through a vulnerable defence on the break. A similar scenario could ensue on Boxing Day, when the Red Devils meet Newcastle United.

The return of Paul Pogba, though, could be a game changer for Manchester United, who could find getting the better of a resolute Newcastle defence a considerably easier task. Still, the Red Devils look set for another frustrating evening, albeit one in which they could end up victorious. The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-0 win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & co.

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