Man Utd v Newcastle
Manchester United welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford in the Barclays Premier League on Friday afternoon for what promises to be an entertaining Boxing Day encounter.
Despite all United’s much-documented woes, they nevertheless sit nicely in third spot in the league, albeit still seven points behind noisy neighbors, City, and a further three behind everyone’s favorites for the title, Chelsea. City’s 1-0 win in the Manchester derby in early November remains United’s only taste of defeat since the infamous 5-3 loss at Leicester in September, a run that has included eight wins and three draws. They had to work hard for a point at Villa Park on Saturday, that draw interrupting a run of six straight wins, but Louis Van Gaal will have been pleased to have seen Radamel Falcao mark his first full ninety minutes of the season with the equalizing goal, and just as happy to have been able to give half an hour to a fit-again Angel Di Maria. With Wayne Rooney as ebullient as ever and an inform Robin van Persie looking dangerous in front of goal again, Van Gaal has all his attacking options to call upon in the busy festive period. However, he is still without the injured Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind , while Marouane Fellaini has an illness, and defender Chris Smalling is also a doubt following a niggling groin injury.
Newcastle’s recent resurgence has stalled in the last couple of weeks, with their two trips to London ending in 4-goal hammerings at Arsenal and Spurs, before losing their fourth consecutive Tyne-Wear derby, when a last minute Adam Johnson goal gave Sunderland all three points at St James’s Park on Sunday. Prior to that, on defeat in ten games, including the 2-1 win that ended Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season, had seen Alan Pardew guide his side from bottom spot to the verge of the top five, and their current ninth spot represents a great position coming into the Christmas period after their seven-game winless start. Pardew will have to do without Cheick Tiote through suspension, but defender Steven Taylor is fit again after suffering a facial injury in the defeat by Sunderland. He will also be boosted by the knowledge that Jonas Gutierrez returned to action for the reserves on Monday, but probably won’t be rushed back for the busy Christmas period.
The formbook suggests that Newcastle’s progress might have to take another step back before they can move forward again. Van Gaal finally seems to be getting into his role at Old Trafford, and his squad appears to be responding with both performances and results. With David De Gea in the form of his life between the sticks, they are looking less vulnerable at the back, and their attacking prowess will be a handful for a Newcastle defense that has conceded nine goals in three games.