On Sunday, Jose Mourinho will take Manchester United to a stadium he has never won at, in all these years managing in the Premier League.
Newcastle United are 16th in the league at this point in time – with 25 points on board, only a point away from 19th placed Huddersfield Town. In fact, ten teams in the bottom half are all so tightly packed that every point between now and the end of the season is unimaginably crucial for survival. Rafa Benitez has despite the well documented lack of support from the board, done a respectable job of keeping Newcastle United above the drop zone and it is vital that they stay in the top flight to not lose momentum again.
The Magpies have conceded the second least number of goals among teams in the bottom half of the table – and Benitez will need his side to be as tight as possible and weather an early storm on Sunday against an unpredictable Manchester United, if he were to gain anything out of a tough fixture.
St. James’ Park – the home of his former mentor and boss Sir Bobby Robson has been Jose Mourinho’s Achilles’ heel. The Portuguese has never won at Newcastle United – but he will go into this fixture reasonably high on morale and confidence for United have looked much more settled of late, having only lost once in the last 10 Premier League fixtures with a kinder draw in the Champions League Round of 16 to look forward to. On his poor run at Newcastle he said,
“I lost and I drew a few times [at Newcastle], I hope the result is different but I know the characteristics of the game will not be difficult. They have a good team and I think they had a good transfer window, with Kenedy and (Islam) Slimani, two players I know very well, who can really improve the team. (Rafa) Benitez knows how to get points so I think it is going to be difficult.”
With only 12 games to go, Manchester United must continue to stay ahead of the chasing pack and make sure they are not dragged into a scramble for the top four.
Joselu could return for the home side after the Spanish striker missed the trip to Selhurst Park through illness, while Slovakian goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and on-loan Leicester forward Islam Slimani could make their debuts after arriving at the club on transfer deadline day last month.
Manager Rafael Benitez said on Friday that Jesus Gamez is “getting better” as he recovers from an ankle injury but Sunday’s game may come too soon for the defender.
Marcus Rashford is an early doubt for Sunday’s game after reportedly suffering a muscle injury against Huddersfield. Marouane Fellaini, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eric Bailly are long-term absentees for the away side, while Daley Blind is also expected to miss out.
Newcastle have drawn their last 3 home matches (Premier League).
Man Utd have kept a clean sheet in 5 of their last 6 matches (Premier League).
Jose Mourinho has faced his counterpart Rafael Benitez 17 times before and has the upper hand with eight wins and five draws.
Ayoze Perez – Newcastle United
Perez has primarily played behind the striker this season, handed the architect role in which he has made the most out of – a generally restrained playing style around him.
Two assists to his name in the campaign so far – Perez has a significant role to play in the remainder of the season being one those key players for Newcastle United and Rafa Benitez in terms of going forward – where they have lacked urgency and creativity often. He brings an element of surprise to the home side which will pose some challenges on Sunday to the visiting team and whether that could influence the outcome remains to be seen.
Alexis Sanchez – Manchester United
The Chilean has opened his account for Manchester United and will be chomping at bits to build on his man-of-the-match display against Huddersfield Town as the Red Devils enter a hectic run of fixtures. Sanchez is exactly the type of player who can make a difference through individual brilliance against a side like Newcastle United who are expected to be cautious and well drilled at the back and it will be interesting to see if the 29-year old can deliver the goods for the Portuguese and help him break the St. James Park hoodoo at the weekend.
It could be a frustrating afternoon for Jose Mourinho (once again).
Newcastle United 0-0 Manchester United