A raucous Old Trafford will welcome Cristiano Ronaldo back to Manchester United, who will host Newcastle United on Saturday.

The dreaded international break is well behind us and club football is resuming this weekend after a gap of nearly two weeks. In the Premier League, Gameweek 4 will get underway on Saturday, with the game under the spotlight being Newcastle United’s visit to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United, with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo set to feature.

Manchester United have made a much better start to the 2021/22 season when you compare it to the onset of their campaign last term. The Red Devils are indeed unbeaten after their first three outings, but have not quite been in full flow after a brilliant season opener against Leeds United, struggling versus both Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Newcastle United, on the other hand, have been rather miserable at the start of the 2021/22 season. While the Magpies have been among the goals, a frail defence has paved the way for a winless start to the campaign, although they did get their first points on the board last time out, holding Southampton to a 2-2 draw.

The reverse fixture last season saw Manchester United cruise to a 3-1 win over Newcastle, with Daniel James, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes on target, while Allan Saint-Maximin scored for the Magpies. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Manchester United

There have been two major talking points surrounding Manchester United in the build-up to the visit of Newcastle United – Cristiano Ronaldo’s return and Fred’s status. While Ronaldo is set for his second debut for the Red Devils, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested that Manchester United have been preparing for the game without Fred.

That comes in contrast to a recent development, which claims that Premier League clubs are set to go against FIFA’s suspension of Brazilian players after they were not allowed to travel for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers during the international break. Apart from Fred, Dean Henderson, Alex Telles and Marcus Rashford are certainly unavailable.

In addition, the likes of Phil Jones and Scott McTominay are major doubts and are unlikely to feature against Newcastle. Jadon Sancho, though, is available after recovering from a knock that forced him to withdraw from England duty during the international break.

Coming back to Fred and his potential absence means Nemanja Matic could return to the double pivot, with Donny van de Beek likely to get a rare start. The Dutchman will likely be deployed in the double pivot alongside Matic, allowing Pogba to take up his more preferred left wing spot.

On the right flank, Mason Greenwood is a certainty, meaning Sancho will return to the bench. Bruno Fernandes will continue to be Manchester United lynchpin in attack, although he will play off of Cristiano Ronaldo this time around, with the Red Devils’ legend likely to start a game straightaway.

At the back, Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire will continue honing their central defensive partnership, with Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka being the two full-backs. Finally, in goal, there is no looking past David de Gea, who has been solid early in the season.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; van de Beek, Matic; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Pogba; Ronaldo

Newcastle United

Like his counterpart in the Manchester United dugout, Steve Bruce has a few pressing injury issues hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. However, unlike Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Newcastle United boss will not be forced to omit a player from his team on Saturday.

Having said that, Bruce is missing a couple of key players, with Jonjo Shelvey (calf) and Callum Wilson (thigh) missing out against Manchester United. In addition, Ryan Fraser is a major doubt while Martin Dubravka remains on the sidelines due to a foot injury.

However, Karl Darlow is likely to regain enough fitness to take his place between the sticks, with Newcastle set to line up in a 3-4-1-2 formation in front of him. The three-man central defensive unit ought to feature Federico Fernandez, Jamaal Lascelles and Paul Dummett, who is another player to have regained fitness.

Up ahead in midfield, Sean Longstaff, who saw a move to Everton collapse, will feature in the absence of Shelvey, with Joe Willock starting alongside him in what will be a double pivot. Out wide, Javier Manquillo and Matt Ritchie will be the two wing-backs, who will drop back to form a back five in the defensive phases while providing the width higher up the pitch.

The key man in attack will be Allan Saint-Maximin, who will shoulder the goalscoring responsibility in the absence of Wilson. Speaking of, Wilson is likely to be replaced by Joelinton, with Miguel Almiron expected to play off of the two strikers and provide the creative impetus.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Darlow; Fernandez, Lascelles, Dummett; Manquillo, Willock, Sean Longstaff, Ritchie; Almiron; Joelinton, Saint-Maximin

Key Stats

  • Manchester United have lost just one of their last 36 home Premier League games against Newcastle United (W26 D9), with that defeat coming in December 2013 under David Moyes (0-1).
  • After losing three of their first six Premier League games last season (W2 D1), Manchester United have lost just a further three in their subsequent 35 Premier League matches (W21 D11).
  • Newcastle have taken 10 points from their last 15 available away from home in the Premier League (W3 D1 L1), though they did lose last time out at Aston Villa. The Magpies had earned just nine points from their previous 42 available on the road (W2 D3 L9).
  • Manchester United have scored at least once in each of their last 14 Premier League home games, netting 40 times in total (2.9 per game). However, they have only kept three clean sheets in that run (19 conceded), shipping at least once in each of their last six at Old Trafford.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 48 hat-tricks in all competitions in his club career – the first of these came against Newcastle United, in a Premier League match in January 2008.

Player to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

Embed from Getty Images

Who else but the big man himself? Cristiano Ronaldo is back at Manchester United and one can expect fireworks from the legendary Portuguese forward. He might be approaching the final years of his career at 36, but he still has a whole lot to offer to Manchester United.

Indeed, judging by his exploits for Juventus, it is clear that Ronaldo will likely be one of the top scorers for the Red Devils this season. What will also be interesting to see is if he now has set-piece duties, with compatriot Bruno Fernandes shouldering that responsibility so far in the last two years or so.

Prediction

Manchester United 3-0 Newcastle United

This game should ideally be a walk in the park for Manchester United. Newcastle United have just not looked solid so far this season and have shown a soft underbelly in their first three games. The Magpies hardly pose a threat going forward either, and are unlikely to trouble Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire.

On the opposite end, one can expect “new boy” Cristiano Ronaldo to create a deafening noise from the Old Trafford crowd, more so when he finds the back of the net. So should Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood, who are the form players for Manchester United along with Paul Pogba. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-0 win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & co.

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