With international football finally finished with for quite a few months, fans and players’ attention alike turns back to domestic club football this weekend, and for United, that means a visit from our old friend Rafa Benitez and his Newcastle United team.
The Geordies have made a solid if unspectacular start to life back in the top flight following their year in Championship exile, and I’m sure the news that unpopular long-time club owner Mike Ashley is seeking a buyer for his controlling interest in Newcastle United was music to the ears of the long-suffering Tyneside faithful.
The visitors have a couple of very decent players, who will need to be ‘managed’ by our lads to ensure we maintain control of the game from the first whistle. Ex-Liverpool man Jonjo Shelvey has very decent ability to pick passes if given time & space, whilst former Bournemouth wide-man Matt Ritchie is dangerous, particularly from dead-ball situations.
United come into the game with a couple of injury worries. Centre-back Phil Jones sustained a calf injury during the 1st half of England’s friendly with Germany at Wembley and is rated doubtful for this game, whilst long-term absentee Paul Pogba may not be risked yet by Jose Mourinho as he nears the end of his rehabilitation from a hamstring problem. Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimović are not yet fit enough for consideration.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (4-1-3-2)
GK: David de Gea – David remains the stand-out goalkeeper in England, a formidable barrier for Joselu, Dwight Gayle and co. to overcome.
RB: Antonio Valencia – another who ‘selects himself’ when fit and available. Hopefully he will get a few opportunities to bomb forward and support our attacking moves on Saturday.
LB: Daley Blind – Blind is a solid performer who will have no fear facing up to the challenge presented by Matt Ritchie, and can also get forward to support our attacks.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Chris Smalling– with Jones unlikely to be recovered enough to partner Bailly, I’d expect Smalling to get the nod over Victor Lindelof, who was on duty for Sweden in their play-off victory over Italy, and will therefore be much less rested than the Englishman. The muscular Joselu and pacy Gayle will present a challenge to them, but I’d expect our centre-backs to come out on top in those tussles.
DM: Nemanja Matic–The giant Serb has been our most consistent player of the season so far, and I would hope he will dominate the game, dictating the pace and keeping the pressure ramped up on Benitez’ men.
RM: Ashley Young – Young’s recent call-up to the England squad by Gareth Southgate was little surprise to most United fans, as we are well aware of how consistent Ashley has been when selected for the team this season. This should be another chance for him to put in a good display and perhaps grab an assist or two from the right wing.
CM(A): Juan Mata – I’d play the little Spaniard in place of the out-of-sorts Mkhitaryan. Juan’s ability to string the play together with clever passing and movement will give the Newcastle defence all sorts of headaches, and you wouldn’t bet against him arriving late into the area to get a shot or two on goal himself.
LM: Marcus Rashford – Marcus will have a real battle to win against DeAndre Yedlin, who is both physical and pacy himself, but his presence in itself should be enough to prevent the American from causing problems for us when the visitors come forward as Yedlin will need to be mindful of leaving Marcus ‘unattended’….
CFs: Romelu Lukaku & Anthony Martial – We need goals, we need wins (especially at home), we know Rafa will set his team up to be primarily hard to break down…so I’d go with two men up top to give us more cutting edge and also to keep the Newcastle defenders occupied. Both these lads have shown good form earlier in the campaign, and Lukaku in particular could do with a goal or three to get his confidence boosted again.
BENCH: Romero, McTominay, Mkhitaryan, Fellaini, Lingard, Tuanzebe, Darmian.
Put frankly, if we are to maintain hope of actually overtaking Manchester City in the race to become the Champions of England next May, Newcastle United at home is simply now a “must win”, and I expect Jose Mourinho to hold the same opinion, and approach the game with that in mind. City make the trip to Leicester City, which could be tricky enough, and with our kick-off time delayed to 5.30pm, we will know their result before we take to the pitch to face Newcastle United. No matter how our “noisy neighbours” do, we must put the Geordies under immense pressure from the first whistle and look to build a commanding lead, and I think this side are well capable of doing just that.
Paul Pogba is now mere weeks away from a return (he may even make the bench on Saturday evening), and we need to make sure we are still in with a realistic chance of catching City by the time he and Zlatan are fit to return.