Manchester United welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford this weekend in one of the most iconic fixtures of the Premier League history. The Magpies may not be the force they once were in the early 2000s, but they still attract attention and this match will be one to look forward to for the neutral. An extra layer of intrigue has been added this season as it will see Jose Mourinho go up against one of his long-term rivals in Rafa Benitez. The latter may not be at the top of the European game at this point, but it is difficult to argue with the job he is doing at St James’ Park and if a takeover does happen in the next few weeks, the potential of the club will only increase.
It is important that Manchester United take the points this weekend as they are currently trailing their rivals by eight points and they can’t afford to let that gap grow any further. After some tricky fixtures of late, they will look at Newcastle as a team that they should be beating and a more attack-minded performance is likely. Romelu Lukaku has had a difficult last few weeks for his club and he will see this as a great opportunity to return to scoring ways.
Newcastle United have lost their last two Premier League fixtures after a promising start, which has caused relegation fears to return to the fan-base. It is difficult to see them getting pulled into real trouble, but it is crucial that they deliver a fighting performance on Saturday to show a reaction. They haven’t had a lot of luck at Old Trafford down the years, but they did manage to secure a win there in 2013 and they will use that as motivation for this weekend.
Romelu Lukaku has scored five goals and contributed four assists in his eight meetings with Newcastle.
If Newcastle United win at Old Trafford on Saturday, Rafa Benitez will become the first manager to win at the ground with three different clubs.
As stated above, the Belgian international has a great record against Newcastle and he will be keen to deliver another strong showing against them on Saturday. The Magpies have had a good defensive record this season, conceding only ten goals in 11 matches and they will be a tough team to break down for the home side. They will look to sit deep and leave little space in behind, but Lukaku can find success in other ways. He is strong in the air and will look to dominate the visitors’ centre-halves. A good international break with Belgium will have increased his confidence and he will want to keep that run of scoring form going on Saturday. He hasn’t scored in the Premier League since September and it will be playing on his mind. If Manchester United want to challenge for major honours, they need their star striker to be in good form. This weekend will serve as a major indication of what the Christmas period has in store for the 24-year-old.
In an international break that saw Gareth Southgate call-up a number of players to the England squad, Shelvey was left on Tyneside to stew. At this stage, it is understandable that he isn’t involved with the national team. He isn’t producing match-winning moments for his club and his disciplinary issues mean that he can’t be trusted. However, there is no doubting that he has the talent to gatecrash the World Cup squad if he puts his mind to it. Newcastle have been lacking invention in attack during their last few fixtures, but in Shelvey, they have a player that can dominate matches on his day. The stage is set for him to go to Old Trafford and deliver a performance that will put in back in contention for the England squad. If there is one player Manchester United should fear, it is a motivated Jonjo Shelvey.
Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick are all doubts for the weekend. Paul Pogba remains a week or two away from a return to first-team action. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is stepping up his recovery, but he won’t be fit in time to start this weekend.
Jamaal Lascelles, Christian Atsu and Mikel Merino are all doubts for the trip to Old Trafford. All three are key first-team players and it would be a blow to lose one of them, let alone all three. In brighter news, Paul Dummett is back with the first-team and could be in line for a return to the match-day squad.
Despite their rivalry throughout the years, Jose Mourinho will respect a Newcastle United team led by Rafa Benitez. The Magpies’ boss belongs at the top of the European game and although he doesn’t have the same talent at his disposal, he will make the visitors tough to beat and a threat on the counter-attack. The Spaniard will be motivated to get one over on Mourinho and the battle on the touchline will be as fascinating as the one on the pitch. The home side are slight favourites, but it won’t be easy for them this weekend. A draw is very possible.
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