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United v Newcastle: Van Gaal defends “very bad” Rooney

August 22, 2015 Tags: , Matches 2 comments
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Three games, three wins. So far, so good, although it has been far from classic Manchester United this season. Whatever the performances there can be few complaints about the results achieved by Louis van Gaal’s side. In securing a 3-1 victory over Club Brugge last Tuesday the Reds stepped closer to the promised land of the Champions League. Six points from six domestically could become nine as Van Gaal’s side takes on Newcastle United at Old Trafford this Saturday. It is good reward for a pre-season shaped to help United achieved a strong start to the new campaign.

Still, with 10 days to go until the transfer window closes the nation’s back pages remain filled by players acquired, or otherwise. Despite the results Van Gaal’s reliance on a declining Wayne Rooney in attack, and midfielder Daley Blind at the back, is a strong argument for further investment. As, perhaps, is David de Gea’s continued absence from the Dutchman’s team pending a transfer to Real Madrid that Van Gaal insists will not happen.

Van Gaal’s focus remains tightly on the football. Transfers, says the Dutchman, are “not any pressure,” with Van Gaal enjoying a squad touching on 28 professionals. He has some reason for optimism. After all, in the week when Pedro Rodriguez moved from Barcelona to Chelsea, and the gossip columns focused on an apparent United bid to acquire Neymar, Van Gaal’s new star Memphis Depay scored a stunning double at Old Trafford.

Sometimes the answer is closer to home.

Van Gaal insists that he is comfortable with the squad he now holds; one that the he believes can only be improved with top quality reinforcements. And not, according to the Dutchman, with the addition of Pedro.

“When Manchester United wants a player he shall come, except when the club is not selling,” said the 64-year-old.

“If we’d have wanted Pedro, it wouldn’t have been a problem. There was a clause in his contract so it was a very easy transfer. We want to improve, but at our way, not at the way that people are saying. When we buy it has to be a contribution to our selection and not against any price.

“I have said already that we now have a better selection. You can see my selection and you can see for every position we have a double. We don’t have to change, but when we can improve we shall do that.”

While Blind has impressed, Rooney’s form is worse than at any point over the past decade. The Scouser remains Van Gaal’s most pressing problem. The club captain is yet to score this season and not in the past nine competitive matches, stretching back to United’s victory over Aston Villa in April. Rooney has netted just six goals in 2015; against Preston North End, Sunderland, Arsenal, Tottenham and Villa.

Rooney was again largely anonymous as United eased past Brugge in midweek – following up what many believe to be the former Evertonian’s worst performance in a United shirt as the Reds secured three points at Villa Park last weekend. So poor was the 29-year-old striker in the Midlands that Rooney was forced to publicly defend his form, while admitting that it has been a difficult start to the new campaign. Van Gaal remains supportive, while the club continues to brief that a new striker is not on the radar.

“I think that’s fantastic that a player admits that and it’s also, for me, unbelievable because he is one of the few players who is saying such things,” said Van Gaal of his captain’s admission.

“He is very confident that he shall make the goals that we expect from him. And I have that confidence also. It starts with the player himself. He has to admit that he was bad and then he can improve. When you don’t admit, you cannot improve.”

Meanwhile, Van Gaal continues to seek the attacking balance to go with what has become a highly functional defence this season. Memphis’ high-quality double against Brugge coincided with another outing on the left side of United’s attack. Through the middle Van Gaal persists with Adnan Januzaj, the Belgian youngster who is only just returning into the first team picture after spending much of last season on the bench.

Januzaj offers the side pace through the middle even if Van Gaal accused the Belgian of “unnecessary ball losses” in United’s win at Villa. Still, Januzaj’s resurgence adds some credence to Van Gaal’s position on Pedro.

“I’m working hard on the pitch and off the pitch as well as in the gym,” he told MUTV this week. “I have started to get back to my fitness but I still need more rhythm. The Villa goal was important to me. And a winning goal.  I want to improve and that’s why I’m training hard. My objective this season is to score more and give more assists.”

United might well need it with Rooney misfiring.

Meanwhile, in the opposition dugout, Steve McClaren faces his fifth tie against Van Gaal in a third country. The two clashed when AZ Alkmaar met FC Twente in 2008 and when Wolfsburg played Bayern Munich in 2010. McLaren is yet to enjoy a win an with Newcastle having lost eight away games in a row the odds remain stacked against the former United assistant manager improving that record.

McClared was sacked by Derby Country last May after failing to reach the Championship play-offs with the Rams. He signed a three-year contract in the north east in June, with an option to extend the deal by a further five years.

“We were both trainer-coaches in the Dutch Eredivisie. For my last season as trainer-coach of AZ Alkmaar, it was Steve’s first season in Dutch football with FC Twente. Alkmaar were crowned champions. FC Twente finished second and went on to win the league the next season – a great achievement for them and Steve.

“Our paths also crossed in the German Bundesliga while I was at Bayern Munich and Steve managed the Wolfsburg team. The matches between Bayern and Wolfsburg were very close and both matches had very late goals – Bastian Schweinsteiger scored for us in injury time to win the first match.”

Team news and line-ups

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Premier League, Old Trafford, 22 August 2015

United subs from: Johnstone, Evans, McNair, Rojo, Carrick, Herrera,  Pereira, Fellaini, Valencia, Young, Hernández, Wilson
Newcastle subs from: Elliot, Dummett, Lascelles, Williamson, Aarons, Abeid, Anita, Bigirimana, De Jong, Gouffran, Thauvin, Mitrovic, Perez

Van Gaal is without Phil Jones who continues to recover from a case of mild thrombosis. The Englishman is training and could be available next weekend. Marcos Rojo is short of match fitness having missed pre-season, while midweek goalscorer Marouane Fellaini serves the final match of a domestic suspension.

The Dutchman could start Bastian Schweinsteiger for the first time, although United’s manager is keeping the decision close to his chest. Schweinsteiger has featured as a second half substitute in each of United’s games this season and may replace Michael Carrick.

“It’s a matter of time. Maybe it shall happen tomorrow. You never know,” said Van Gaal of the £6.3 million capture from Bayern Munich.

Elsewhere, Van Gaal is unlikely to make any major changes, with Januzaj retained in a central supporting role alongside Memphis and Juan Mata.

McClaren could offer a debut to new winger Florian Thauvin, although defender Daryl Janmaat is suspended after being sent off at Swansea City last weekend. Moussa Sissoko is a minor injury doubt with a groin injury.

Match officials
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistants: L Betts, S Burt
Fourth Official: K Friend

United 2-0 Newcastle

£1 bet club
Memphis to score twice @ 9/2

Match graphic by @cole007

United v Newcastle: Louis looks to fortress Old Trafford

December 25, 2014 Tags: , Matches 1 comment
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It has been a half-season of mixed achievement at Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United. After all, United recorded the club’s worst start to a season since the mid-1980s after suffering three defeats in the opening 10 games. One record that David Moyes failed to break during a dismal 10 months as manager. In stark relief lies the past seven matches in which Van Gaal’s outfit has claimed six victories – a run halted only by Saturday’s draw with Aston Villa. It is a mark of the revival that the result was treated with dismay by coach and fans alike.

There are other contrasts that concern and delight, such as the disparity between United’s home and away form this season. At Old Trafford the Reds have secured 22 from a possible 27 points, including seven victories – a record bettered only by Chelsea. Yet, there are six clubs with a better record on the road than United, including West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton. The 10 points claimed away from Manchester has come with a negative goal difference that says much about an erratic season

Indeed, as United approaches the second half of the campaign it is the consistency achieved during the recent run of matches that Van Gaal now seeks – and not just at home. Still, if Old Trafford is the foundation on which United’s renaissance is built then Van Gaal will, at a minimum, win over any remaining doubters among United’s legion support. An observation the veteran Dutchman is quick to recognise ahead of Boxing Day’s fixture with Newcastle United.

“We want to build a fortress at Old Trafford but we have made that already because we have won a lot, also with great results,” said the 62-year-old on Wednesday. “I’m happy with that but then we have to continue because seven is too few. That’s the most difficult point because it is not easy to win games in the Premier League.

“My record in away matches is not so bad when you compare it with my home matches. Away the teams are more open but here they want to defend which is why it’s more difficult. That’s why we want to create a certain play-style where we can dominate. Every week we dominate for 45-60 minutes. We must do it for 90 minutes.”

Friday’s match is likely to be another test of the Dutchman’s attacking philosophy, with Alan Pardew’s side no longer in the mood to play the open attacking football that brought a two-month unbeaten run from the end of September. Not least after visitors shipped eight goals in the past two away matches: four at Arsenal in the Premier League and another four at Tottenham in the Capital One Cup.

Still, Van Gaal again enjoys a squad that is short just a handful of players for Newcastle’s visit, with Ander Herrera, Marouanne Fellaini and Luke Shaw not yet ready to return, and Chris Smalling more likely to feature against Spurs on Sunday. With Rafael da Silva short of match-fitness Van Gaal is again likely to persist with the 3-4-1-2 system that has brought results but not always attractive performances this season. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are likely to be retained as wing-backs until Shaw and Rafael are ready for first team action.

“I am more or less obliged to play with wing-backs because the real full-backs, Shaw and Rafael da Silva, were not fit enough and that is not good,” explained Van Gaal. “I have to select what I want but now I am forced to select. For a manager, that is not so good.”

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Premier League, Old Trafford, 26 December 2014

By contrast, in attack, the Dutchman boasts plenty of options, with Angel di Maria pushing for a return to the starting team after recovering from injury and Radamel Falcao on a high following his goal against Villa.

Elsewhere Darren Fletcher could retain his place if Michael Carrick is again deployed as the spare man in a back-three, while Wayne Rooney is again likely to be deployed in midfield alongside Juan Mata. It is a role the Englishman performed well against Villa, although not always with the balance of a natural attacking midfielder. Rooney’s tendency to hit long diagonal balls has long been noted, but his energy is a trait Van Gaal clearly values.

“Wayne is a player who can play in different positions and I like that because I like multi-functional players,” added Van Gaal. “That’s why I can use him as a midfielder, also as a striker and as an attacking midfielder. The last game he was more a defensive midfielder. He has the ability to run from box to box and to read the match. But that’s a matter of time and he can do that. I like him closer to the area than our own goal.”

In the opposition dugout Pardew is without key midfielder Cheick Tiote through suspension in what is rapidly becoming one of those ‘must win’ games the 53-year-old coach seems to stumble into now and then after four mediocre years at Newcastle. Meanwhile, Steven Taylor has recovered from a facial injury, but Jonas Gutierrez is not match-fit after making making an appearance for the reserves on Monday.

For Van Gaal the equation remains simple: victory at Old Trafford to counter-balance inconsistency on the road. Still, three points remains the essential festive gift and history is on United’s side. The Reds have won the past 10 games on 26 December, losing just once on Boxing Day since the Premier League’s inception.

“It’s all about keeping this good run going and keeping going with good results,” goalkeeper David De Gea told MUTV.

“These are the fixtures you really enjoy. It’s a good period in the season. It’s a bit strange for all of us who are coming here from other leagues where we’ve been used to having a winter or at least a Christmas and New Year break. But we appreciate it’s really important for the people who are watching the games.

“This one is going to be a very, very big game. It’s very important for us. We’re at home, so we have got the backing of our fans as usual. It’s really vital that we get the three points and keep this run going.”

United (4-1-3-2): de Gea; Jones, Carrick, Evans; Valencia, Rojo, Young; Carrick; Rooney, Fletcher, Mata; Van Persie, Falcao
Newcastle (4-4-1-1): Alnwick; Janmaat, Taylor, Coloccini, Dummett; Colback, Gouffran, Sissoko, Pérez; Ameobi; Cissé

Subs from
United: Lindegaard, Blackett, Smalling, McNair, Rafael, Anderson, Di María, Januzaj, Wilson
Newcastle: Williamson, Haidara, Cabella, Riviere, Armstrong, Woodman, Streete

United 81 – Draw 37 – Newcastle 41

Referee: Mike Jones
Assistants: J Collin, I Hussin
Fourth Official: R Madley

United 3-1 Newcastle

£1 bet club
Falcao hat-trick @ 25/1
Running total: £(-)6

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Preview: Newcastle United v United

April 4, 2014 Tags: , Matches 5 comments
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Anything less than a win at St. James’ Park and it will be mathematically impossible for Manchester United to retain the Premier League crown this season. There is, then, still hope for those of the most optimistic bent. For the rest, gallows humour has long since taken over in the worst United campaign of the Premier League era. After all, with United out of the hunt domestically, and favourites to fall in the Champions League next Wednesday, there is little optimism left at Old Trafford.

There is less hope still after news filtered through on Friday that Wayne Rooney will miss at least one game with a toe injury – possibly even United’s trip to Munich. Should Rooney’s injury persist, as toe problems often do, it will represent a devastating blow to David Moyes’ hopes for a strong finish to the campaign.

“Wayne is injured. He has a badly bruised toe so he won’t be involved. It will be touch and go for Wayne for Wednesday,” Moyes told the press on Friday.

“With a lot of toe injuries you have to make sure there isn’t a hairline fracture or crack in your toe. We will have all that checked. It is a toe injury and they are never easy when you get one.

“You could see him limping in the game towards the end quite badly. There is not an awful lot you can do with a toe injury – sometimes you can feel better quite quickly with them and sometimes you need an injection possibly to play with it if it is bruising.”

Still, United’s record on the road in the Premier League is outstanding this season; a strange aberration in an otherwise dismal campaign. The Reds’ haul of 30 points away from Old Trafford betters any opposition, although United failed to win at Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Etihad, Emirates, or White Hart Lane. St. James’, alongside Goodson Park, represents the toughest fixtures away from Old Trafford remaining in the domestic season.

Moyes’ side comes off a morale-boosting draw with Bayern Munich, if ultimately a result that does little to ensure the Reds’ progress in Europe. United must win or score at least twice at the Allianz Arena to progress. It is an outcome few outside of M16 believe likely after a night in which the European champions dominated possession and created 16 chances, largely blowing the opportunity to win at Old Trafford through attacking profligacy.

There is nowhere near Bayern’s quality available to Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew, of course, although the Geordies’ record against United in recent seasons is decent. Still, with Newcastle’s recent dire form placing Pardew under genuine pressure, Moyes is likely to be optimistic of another positive away result ahead of next Wednesday’s decisive European fixture.

“The only thing we are thinking about is the Newcastle game,” said Moyes on Friday.

“The focus is all on Newcastle. We have to go up there and put on a good performance and get three points, trying to build a little bit of momentum towards the end of the season. We will go there and try to do that.

“Obviously I have got other things on the mind, but the focus is Newcastle and we will try to balance things out correctly. The message to the players is that it is Newcastle United, this is the next game and it is the most important one.”

Newcastle United v Manchester United, Premier League, St James Park, 3pm 5 April 2014Rooney aside, Moyes will take a strong squad to the north east, with Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Nani potentially involved, although Robin van Persie remains on the sidelines. Evans, Smalling and Nani have missed much of United’s recent programme, but should be available for the remaining games of United’s season.

Smalling may start, although Evans – having been out for two months – is more likely to begin the match on the bench, with Michael Carrick only deputising in central defence if Moyes is unwilling to risk captain Nemanga Vidić for a second game in three days.

In Rooney’s stead both Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández will hope to start up front, with Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata also both in contention for midfield berths.

“We have got Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling back in training,” said the manager.

“Ryan Giggs picked up a wee bit of an injury and we are not quite so worried about Alex Büttner. He is not as bad as when he first came off. We have got Jonny and Chris on the way back, which is important for us because we have missed them through what has arguably been one of the most difficult times of the season for us. We could have done with their youth and enthusiasm.”

Whatever the selection Moyes has remained bullish about United’s chances in the aftermath of last Tuesday’s match. While there was little attractive about United’s defensive strategy, which involved almost a quarter of all the Reds’ passes being launched long, the Scot demanded his team remain in the tie ahead of the second leg. That United remain, although Bayern’s home record is, of course, outstanding this season.

Still, there was a mental fortitude on Wednesday that has been lacking for much of the campaign – an attitude that must filter through to the remaining six Premier League games of the season, and whatever is to come in Europe. Saturday is both a test of the players’ resolve and Moyes’ ability to motivate his squad away from a big European fixture.

“I believe the club showed its strength and has needed to show it at times this year. Everybody within the club has shown it and the atmosphere of the crowd was magnificent, it really was,” said Moyes.

“It was a terrific performance from the players. It was a special night as far as I am concerned, maybe one of the best games I have ever been involved in, because of the atmosphere, the crowd and the standard of the opposition. But more importantly, it was special because of the performance the players put in.”

It is unlikely to be as intense on Saturday afternoon; not least with Newcastle having lost three of the last four fixtures, including shipping seven against Southampton and Everton. Pardew’s job is made all the more difficult by a lengthy injury list that includes Moussa Sissoko, Tim Krul, Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy.

Yet, Newcastle will complete a first league double over United since 1931 with victory on Saturday, having secured a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in December. Yohan Cabaye’s goal proffered Newcastle maximum points from an away fixture with United for the first time in more than 40 years. Not the first record Moyes has secured this season.

But after the momentum that has seemingly been gathered following Tuesday’s result, defeat at St. James’ is simply unthinkable for United’s under-fire manager.


Newcastle United v Manchester United, Premier League, St James’ Park, 3pm, 5 April 2014

Possible Teams
Newcastle (4-4-2): Elliot; Yanga-Mbiwa, Williamson, Coloccini, Haidara; Ben Arfa, Tioté, Anita, Gouffran; Cissé, de Jong

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Evans, Büttner; Young, Fletcher, Cleverley, Kagawa; Mata; Welbeck

Newcastle: Alnwick, Santon, Gosling, Sh Ameobi, Taylor, Dummett, Marveaux

United: Lindegaard, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidić, Fellaini, Carrick, Valencia, Nani, Januzaj, Hernández

Head to Head
Newcastle 41 Draw 37 United 80

Match Officials
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistants: J Flynn, R West
Fourth Official: C Boyeson


Matchday Forum
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Preview: United v Newcastle United

December 7, 2013 Tags: , Matches 4 comments
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It is more than 40 years since Newcastle United last won at Old Trafford, although it is hard to reconcile that fact with David Moyes’ attitude towards the Geordie’s visit on Saturday lunchtime. In a week when Manchester United dropped four vital points in the Premier League title race, David Moyes remained stoically non-committal on the extent to which the Reds’ are likely to respond. It is, said Moyes on Friday, his “hope” that United will gain ground on Arsenal’s 12 point lead. Hope is no kind of strategy, to paraphrase former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Still, Newcastle’s visit offers Moyes’ embattled team a rapid opportunity to right a listing ship. With points dropped, pride hurt, and questions becoming increasingly hostile this week, Moyes is a man more than many in desperate need of victory this Saturday.

What better tonic than the visit of a side that has failed to secure three points at Old Trafford since 1972? Mind you, it has been a week for momentous results; Everton hadn’t secured victory at United’s home in more than two decades.

Still, Moyes’ side enjoyed a 12 match unbeaten run prior to defeat on Wednesday night, although five draws in that sequence highlight the patchy form United has enjoyed for much of the campaign. It is a funk that Moyes must rapidly lift if his side is to retain the Premier League trophy this season.

And while talk of ‘crisis’ may be premature – and entirely predictable – Moyes can only come under increasing pressure if United’s results do not turn around. Starting with Newcastle’s visit this weekend.

“Of course I understand the fans’ concerns,” said Moyes on Friday.

“They want their team to win. We need to try to improve how we are playing. We need to try to improve our results. We have had some good results. We have been on a decent run. We would like it to be better. We will have to go on another one.

“This was our first defeat in 13 games and I hope we can do something similar in the coming games. We have not had the consistency I hoped we would have. There have been some games where we have played really well, there have been others where we have been a little bit slack.”

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Old Trafford, Premier League, 12.45pm, 7 December 2013On the pitch Moyes is not helped by the absence of key men. Wayne Rooney suspended, Robin van Persie injured, and Shinji Kagawa sick leaving the Scot to rotate his forwards.

van Persie’s remains on the sidelines with a groin problem, with Kagawa suffered breathing problems after United’s 1-0 home reverse against Everton, while Rooney picked up a fifth yellow card of the season against the Toffees. Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck could come into the side.

Rooney’s one match suspension deprives Moyes of his principle attacking threat this season, with Rooney enjoying the campaign in both striking and deeper positions. The Scouser’s revival this season is seemingly down to Moyes’ persistence is repairing a once fractured relationship between the pair.

“It is a big loss to lose Wayne,” added the Scot. “That was always going to be the case. We have not had a chance to rest him or give him a break. This has given us an opportunity. He is having Friday and Saturday off. They are probably the only days he has had off this year.

“Obviously we would rather him not be suspended. But he is and we have to try and make the most of it and keep Wayne fresh and ready to play because he has been in great form all season and we have been really pleased with him.”

Still, it is in midfield that Moyes has consistently failed to find the right formula this season, despite spending some £27 million on former Evertonian Marouanne Fellani. Moyes is likely to draft Phil Jones back into a central role, with Fellaini struggling for fitness and Giggs likely to be rested. Tom Cleverley could start despite his lack of form this season.

Meanwhile, Newcastle arrive having won five games on the bounce in November before losing 3-0 to Swansea City last weekend. The winning run relieved some pressure on manager Alan Pardew who has enjoyed a fractious relationship with owner Mike Ashley.

Pardew will wait until the last moment to assess forward Papiss Cisse, while Hatem Ben Arfa returns after missing the defeat in Wales with illness. Either way, the north east side remain confident that a first victory in more than 40 years can be achieved at Old Trafford, where West Bromwich Albion and Everton have already taken maximum points.

“We’ve beaten Chelsea and Tottenham already so to also beat Manchester United would set the tone and say a little bit about my team,” said Pardew.

“I’ve heard Newcastle’s last win at Old Trafford was in 1972 but you want to try and tip over the big teams. Pressure comes with the territory at Old Trafford and I hope we can capitalise on the pressure they’re under. It’s great to be at those clubs with all the many assets they have in terms of the size and quality of the squad but you’ve got to win every game you play.

“Manchester United can still win the league. It’s a long way back for them but they’ve proved many times over that they’re a team who improve as the season goes on. It was obviously going to be difficult for David to follow someone like Sir Alex Ferguson and the aura that the man had. But he’s trying to find his feet, he’s displaying a lot of dignity and I think he’s doing a reasonable job.”

Whether reasonable is good enough remains an open question. It hasn’t been for much of the campaign to date. Yet, with games against mid-ranked opposition including Aston Villa, Stoke City, and West Ham United to come before December is out, there is no better time for Moyes’ team to pull a run together.

You could say that Moyes hopes for it. Supporters are beginning to demand it.

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Premier League, Old Trafford, 12.45pm, 7 December 2013

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafaeil, Evans, Vidić, Evra; Cleverley, Jones; Nani, Welbeck, Januzaj; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Smalling, Ferdinand, Anderson, Fellaini, Young, Valencia, Giggs

Newcastle (4-4-2): Krul; Debuchy, Colocinni, Williamson, Santon; Gouffran, Tioté, Cabaye, Sissoko; Ré, Cisse. Subs from: Elliot, S Taylor, Dummett, Yanga-Mbwia, Haidara, Anita, Ben Arfa, Shola Ameobi, Sammy Ameobi, Bigirimana, Marveaux, Obertan

United 80 Draw 37 Newcastle 40

Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: P Kirkup, S Massey
Fourth Official: N Swarbrick


Matchday Forum discussion

Preview: United v Newcastle United

December 25, 2012 Tags: , Matches 148 comments

One down, three to play in this year’s festive programme – and if Sir Alex Ferguson’s side is holding on to any lingering disappointment following Sunday’s draw at Swansea City then there is little time to wallow. Not with Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, the Geordies in dangerously poor form, and United seeking to bounce back from a first draw in 21 Premier League matches. Not that Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will count any points secure just yet; not after last season’s 3-2 reserve to Blackburn Rovers at the same stage of the campaign.

Ferguson’s men will be smarting after dropping points in Wales despite a thoroughly dominant performance. Swansea’s equaliser came after Patrice Evra lost his man and Nemanja Vidić was slow to react, allowing Michu to score his 13th of a remarkable season – United’s 70-year-old manager will have gained little reassurance that the Reds’ defensive performances have improved.

Still, it will take a major turnaround in fortunes if Newcastle is to pull off a result at Old Trafford. After all, the Magpies have not beaten United in Manchester since February 1972. Moreover, Newcastle’s six defeats in the past 10 matches points to a team in dire form – and a manager under genuine pressure. Eight year contract or otherwise, manager Alan Pardew’s time at St James’ will surely be up should Newcastle suffer a poor festive period.

It is a shocking about-face for Pardew after Newcastle’s fifth place finish last time out – something Ferguson puts down to the Geordies’ ability to catch opponents off guard.

“The new players they brought in caught us all by surprise,” admits Ferguson.

“We didn’t really know a lot about them. I knew about Ba, of course, but I didn’t know anything about Cabaye or Cissé, to be honest with you. They had fantastic seasons. Second time round, clubs are starting to analyse them a bit different, plus, more importantly, he’s had some injuries.”

Meanwhile, title rivals Manchester City faces Sunderland on Wearside, with Roberto Mancini’s men seeking to improve on a mixed record on the road this season. The Blues clawed back two points on United in the Premier League table after beating Reading with a highly dubious goal at the weekend. But it is just that kind of fortune that swings titles either way.

Little wonder there is a tighter focus from United’s squad ahead of Newcastle’s visit. After all, further dropped points could see City close the gap to as little as a single point after Boxing Day.

“I felt that we deserved to win at Swansea and that is why I am really confident for the rest of the games we having coming up over Christmas,” defender Patrice Evra told MUTV.

“We have to move on from the draw and focus on our next game against Newcastle. It is important to win and it is important that we keep playing well. I think we need to talk about ourselves and not about another team. We face Newcastle at home, let’s make sure we get three points. After that it is West Brom and we must make sure we get three points then too. This is an important part of the season and it is an opportunity to get a lot of points.”

Manchester United v Newcastle United - Premier League, Old Trafford - 26 December 2012Ferguson is likely to rotate for the Geordies’ visit, with games against West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic to come in the next week. Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernández, Darren Fletcher and Chris Smalling could all feature, with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes also available.

Rafael da Silva must overcome a hamstring injury if he is to replace Phil Jones at right-back.Captain Nemanja Vidić may sit out the tie after completing 90 minutes against Swansea on Sunday.

The Scot must also decide whether to keep faith with Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia. The latter is in an extended period of poor form, while Rooney suffered his worst game of the season at Swansea. While Rooney may sit out Newcastle’s visit, there are fewer alternatives to Valencia, with Nani still injured and United short of wingers in the squad.

Meanwhile, Newcastle manager Pardew will be without a slew of key players for the trip to the north west. Chieck Tiote is suspended after picking up a fifth booking of the season at the weekend, while Steven Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Ryan Taylor are also absent through injury.

It is just the kind of ill fortune that has struck Pardew’s men this season, with Newcastle now just five points off the relegation zone following an exciting 2011/12 campaign. The fifth place finish that took Newcastle into Europe and proffered an eight-year contract for Pardew is now a distant memory.

“They’ve found it a bit tougher this year but I know they’ve had some injuries, which have played a part,” said United striker Welbeck, who spent a season at rivals Sunderland two years ago.

“You can still see potential throughout their team. They have some real attacking threats – everyone knows about players like Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé. All I can do is watch their games, look for any weaknesses and then do some damage on the pitch if I get the chance.”

Indeed, Welbeck is likely to start, with the youngster having featured from the bench more often than not this season. Longsight-born Welbeck has become the principal victim of £24 million Robin van Persie’s outstanding start to life with United.

Could the striker could fill his boots with a weak Newcastle side in town? Certainly, many will feel that an early goal could open the proverbial floodgates at Old Trafford. Then again, supporters said the same of United’s last Boxing Day fixture – the 2-3 reverse to Blackburn Rovers in Manchester.

Still, Newcastle has emerged victorious only once in the ;last 22 matches against United in all competitions – the 3-0 Premier League home victory in January. And the north east side has not beaten the Reds in 28 visits to Old Trafford.

Indeed, no club has secured more points against Newcastle than United in the Premier League era – 75. Few will bet against that total being 78 by Wednesday evening, with Pardew seemingly a lone voice of dissent.

“I’m actually going into it probably more buoyed than any other point of the season,” claimed the 51-year-old.

“We’ve definitely picked up, we look a little bit more resiliant, we picked up a very important clean sheet on Saturday and I think we’ll be in good heart for what is one of the toughest games of the programme: Manchester United away.”

Match Details
Manchester United v Newcastle United – Premier League, Old Trafford – Wednesday 26 December 2012, 3pm

Possible teams
United (4-4-2): De Gea; Jones, Evans, Smalling, Evra; Young, Carrick, Fletcher, Welbeck; Hernandez, van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Wootton, Vidić, Ferdinand, Buttner, Scholes, Cleverley, Valencia, Powell, Giggs, Rooney

Newcastle (4-5-1): Krul; Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; Cissé, Anita, Perch, Marveaux, Gutierrez; Ba. Subs from: Harper, Ferguson, Bigirimana, Obertan, Sh Ameobi, Sa Ameobi, Elliot

Referee: P Dowd
Assistants: G Beswick, S Ledger
Fourth Official: A Taylor

United: WWLWWD
Newcastle: LWLLLW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 6, Newcastle 1, Draw 3
Overall: United 79, Newcastle 40, Draw 37


Preview: Newcastle United v United

October 5, 2012 Tags: , Matches 142 comments

When Manchester United last visited St James’ Park in January, heavy defeat told only part of the story that week. Demba Ba’s volley and a fine free-kick from Johan Cabaye helped to inflict a 3-0 loss on Sir Alex Ferguson’s men – it came just four days after relegation bound Blackburn Rovers’ New Year’s Eve victory at Old Trafford. Five months out from the season’s dénouement and United’s domestic challenge appeared every bit as forlorn as that in Europe.

Yet, defeat on Tyneside marked a sea change in United’s fortunes, with Ferguson’s men first challenging and then overtaking Manchester City in the Premier League title race in the Spring. History concludes that United’s challenge was unsuccessful, but that 4 January defeat to Newcastle seemingly sparked the Reds’ campaign into life.

The new season brings new challenges, of course, but just a week after defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, Ferguson can only hope that a modicum of history does not repeat at St. James’ Park on Sunday.

However, United’s inconsistent performances to date have already brought two Premier League defeats in six games; it’s a loss ratio that cannot be maintained as the season progresses if Ferguson wants his team to challenge. In Europe narrow victories over opposition bodes well for European qualification at least, although performances have been far from stellar either.

Indeed, defeat to Spurs last weekend came amid one of the worst 45 minutes performance during Sir Alex’ Old Trafford reign; that first half followed, at least, by a hugely impressive attacking effort in the second that only just failed to bring Ferguson’s men a result.

Newcastle United v Manchester United - Premier League, St. James' Park - Sunday 7 October 2012, 4pmStill, United’s form in the first nine games of the season leaves supporters wondering if, and when, the Reds’ season will spark into life. Few hope the kindling required  is another defeat on Tyneside.

“In the second half of the season we had to do something, when you lose a game you have to do something,” said Ferguson of last January’s defeat at St. James’.

“We lost a game to Tottenham and we have to recover again. Hopefully we can get the result on Sunday. It won’t be easy, it is always a difficult place to go, Newcastle. I think under Alan Pardew they have become a really committed team. But after what happened in the game against Tottenham we need to get on the road in terms of recovery.”

“I watched Newcastle last night and they played a few of their squad and left a few others out. But they still won convincingly. It was a good performance and a good result for them.

“Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse both have good scoring records. They rested Ba last night and played Shola Ameobi. I’m not sure what combination it will be on Sunday. Ba and Ameobi are both strong, while Cisse has scored some fantastic goals for them. The third goal last night was excellent.”

If United is to get a result at St. James’ then Ferguson’s men will do so without a plethora of injured players. Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will again be absent from the back-four, while Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia sit out another fixture. However, Ferguson will welcome back Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs to the travelling party after the midfield trio missed United’s trip to Cluj in midweek.

Ferugson will retain Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans at the heart of United’s defence after the Ulsterman overcame a dead leg picked up against CFR Cluj on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling is one step nearer full fitness after the

“It was just a dead leg he picked up last Saturday against Tottenham,” said Sir Alex.

“I took him off towards the end [of the Cluj game]. Smalling has started training on the football side. That helps us, particularly as we have a problem at centre-back. Ashley will start training while the internationals are on, particularly during the second week. He could, at a stretch, be back for the Stoke game.”

Wayne Rooney should start alongside Robin van Persie at Newcastle, although Ferguson faces a difficult choice where to deploy the former Evertonian with Shinji Kagawa waiting to return. The Japanese midfielder sat out United’s narrow victory in Romania on Tuesday night, and may have to settle for a role on the left side of midfield.

Meanwhile, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew can point to some improved for after the Magpies dispatched Bordeaux 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday night. Underwhelming results, including a succession of draws, has seen Newcastle slip to 10th in the Premier League. Yet the Magpies have hit top form at just the right time, with former Red Gabriel Obertan imperssing on Thursday.

“You can bet your life this place is going to be rocking on Sunday after that performance,” said Pardew after Newcastle’s victory on Thursday night. “It is going to be a tough game for us and a tough game for Manchester United for sure.” (AM)

Of that there is little doubt.

Match Details
Newcastle United v Manchester United – Premier League, St. James’ Park – Sunday 7 October 2012, 4pm

Possible Teams
Newcastle (4-3-3): Harper; Perch, Williamson, S Taylor, Santon; Bigirimana, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa, Cisse, Ba. Subs from: Elliot, Ferguson, Tavernier, Anita, Cabaye, Tiote, Obertan, Sh Ameobi, Sa Ameobi

United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs from: De Gea, Büttner, Wootton, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Macheda, Hernández, Welbeck.

Referee: H Webb
Assistants: M Mullarkey, D Cann
Fourth Official: K Friend

Newcastle: DDDWLD
United: WWWWLW

Last 10: Newcastle, United, Draw
Overall: Newcastle, United, Draw


  • Newcastle fans were spared defeat last week with talismanic frontman Demba Ba scoring twice in the second half against Reading to ensure a point returned north with the Magpies;
  • Jonas Gutierrez turned in a typically hard-running performance against, covering 5.37 miles, the most of any Newcastle player;
  • French midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa continues to trouble defences this season, making nine dribbles to date – he is joint second on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Papiss Cisse’s performances this season have been aided by the player’s speed – the striker clocked 20.26mph, the quickest of any player on the park last weekend;
  • Defender Mike Williamson has gone quietly about some solid defensive work so far this season, making 31 interceptions and 5 blocks;
  • Michael Carrick covered 6.67 miles against Spurs last weekend, in a team total of 64.46 miles – a season high;
  • Carrick has also received the ball more than any other United player, having been passed to 420 times by his teammates this season;
  • At 37 Paul Scholes’ enduring influence remains – no other player in the United squad has completed more passes in the opponent’s half than the midfielder – 189;
  • Jonny Evans was United’s quickest player against Spurs – recorded at 19.96mph;
  • Bought for his creativity, Shinji Kagawa’s defnesive work has been surprising – the former Borussia Dortmund has successfully won 86 per cent of tackles attempted so far this season.


Young guns push for place with history no longer on side

September 28, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 9 comments

It could hardly be rosier at Manchester United’s academy. Despite the extensive building work taking place at Carrington, academy players enjoy some of the finest facilities in England, a large coaching staff, education and medical programmes second to few, and a manager whom professes dedication to youth. Indeed, United – culturally, historically, and financially – is set up to deliver high quality from the academy and under-21 sides into Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team.

On Wednesday four more youngsters made first team débuts for the club, this time against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup – long a route from youth to Ferguson’s principal side. This brings to 206 the number of players brought from youth and academy sides into the first team in the club’s history – 94 having also played for their respective international sides. It is, by any measure, a remarkable statistic.

Yet, the road for Wednesday’s début four – Marnick Vermijl, Robbie Brady, Scott Wootton and Ryan Tunnicliffe – is long and comes with no guarantees of success. After all, not since the famous class of ’92 has the club consistently brought players through age-group sides to regular places in the first team. At least not in batches.

On Wednesday, in addition to the four youngsters, former youth team player Darren Fletcher started for the club, while Ryan Giggs played his 912th game for United at Anfield last Sunday. Paul Scholes, still going at 36, has 702 appearances for the club. Into his sixth season with the club, Jonny Evans, at 24, is no longer a ‘youth’.

Elsewhere Danny Welbeck could yet enjoy a fine career with United, although at this stage there are few guarantees quite how fine, while Tom Cleverley holds the hopes and hearts of millions. Cleverley’s game number 19 brought a first goal for the club against Newcastle United on Wednesday, but the player’s ‘brand value’ to date eclipses performances from the Basingstoke-born 23-year-old.

Indeed, over the past two decades there has been mixed success in the path from youth to Sir Alex’ side. For every Scholes, a John O’Shea; for every O’Shea, a Ravel Morrison. Failure is far more common than success at all clubs, and none bar modern Barcelona has matched ’92’s transition from youth to the international stage.

Yet, there are signs that a new wave of high quality youngsters is on the cusp of a breakthrough at Old Trafford, although only time will tell how many make it at United, let alone on the international front. Talent, as ever with youth, is only part of a far greater picture.

On Wednesday each of the quartet can be proud of bows taken in front of a lively if sparse Old Trafford crowd. Performances were understandably mixed. At right back Vermijl, who has impressed at reserve level with tireless running and attacking intent, suffered from début nerves, although the Belgian’s quality in the attacking third was reminiscent of positive displays for the reserve side over the past year. Aged just 20, time is still on the former Standard Liège player’s side.

Meanwhile, Wootton, 21, will take no embarrassment from a display that kept Shola Ameobi quiet for large portions of the game, while far more experienced defenders will also struggle with Papiss Cisse’s quality.

Yet, it is key season for Wootton who has spent time away from the club at Tranmere Rovers, Peterborough United and Nottingham Forrest in recent seasons. With five central defenders ahead of the youngster in the pecking order it is hard to envision a breakthrough for the Birkenhead-born defender.

Wootton’s defensive partner, Michael Keane, was the stand out youngster on Wednesday in only his second start for the club, demonstrating the poise that has become so evident in recent times. The Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year was thought by many little more than an average right-back 18 months ago, but has made more progress than almost any other young player at Old Trafford.

In this Ferguson has reason to be satisfied – not least victory over a more experienced Newcastle outfit that should have exploited United’s fledgling back-four with more purpose.

“I’m very pleased,” claimed Ferguson after United’s 2-1 victory.

“First of all, given the tie was an all-Premier League one and Newcastle are probably a stronger team than us physically, we played some fantastic football. We kept on playing our football and persevered with that and had good composure in our game. I was really pleased with that and I think we deserved to win. Newcastle are a very powerful team so it’s good to get through that one.”

United’s next Capital One fixture, away at Chelsea on Halloween, is unlikely to be as forgiving, with Roberto di Matteo having deployed an experienced side against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday. Tempted though Ferguson may find the opportunity to further blood his youngsters, it is unthinkable that the Scot will once again deploy a back-five, including David de Gea, whose average age was just 20.8 years.

Yet, there are others still waiting for an opportunity. Late substitute Tunnicliffe, deployed out of position at right-back, will surely get more chances this season – and the Heywood-born youngster at least earned his old man a nice bonus for the night’s work.

Besides Tunnicliffe, Brady is also seeking more playing time this season, appearing for a few short minutes on his début against the Magpies. Brady scored one and made one when making his Republic of Ireland bow against Oman earlier this month. There is much more to come from the left-sided midfielder.

There are plenty more who did not make it into Ferguson’s Capital One side – Larnell Cole, Jesse Lindgard, Davide Petrucci, Tyler Blackett, Joshua King and many more. And for many the newly formed Professional Development League simply won’t be test enough this season.

In that there is a warning; competition for the right to get a shot at the first team is equal to the fight for places in Ferguson’s main side itself. History may may spin a positive tale when it comes to United’s dalliance with youth, but the modern game is less forgiving. As the last of ’92’s class heads into the winters of their careers, the new generation unveiled on Wednesday has a tough road ahead.

Preview: United v Newcastle United

September 26, 2012 Tags: , Matches 102 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will field an experimental side as Newcastle United visit Old Trafford for the third round of the newly renamed Capital One Cup on Wednesday night. In common League Cup policy over many years, Ferguson will use the tournament to blood youngsters and offer minutes to squad played under-used so far this season. But the Scot’s team is likely to play in a half-empty stadium, with the club having sold just over 40,000 tickets for the match. Years of price rises having finally taken a serious toll on attendances.

News of Nemanja Vidić’s injury is a serious blow to United’s short-term ambitions, with the Serbian defender likely to miss at least two months of the campaign. Although the defender was never likely to feature in Wednesday’s match with Alan Pardew’s visiting Geordies, the match takes on even greater significance for Ferguson’s other defenders who must now get, or stay, fit.

To that end Irishman Jonny Evans is likely to start, with the 24-year-old Irishman needing minutes in his own road towards full fitness, while youngsters Scott Wooten and Michael Keane come into the frame.

Meanwhile, winger Antonio Valencia will definitely miss the match having left Anfield on crutches according to press reports. United is yet to release details about the wingers reported foot injury, although there is an outside chance Wayne Rooney could make United’s bench.

Far better news comes in the shape of Darren Fletcher who will start a first team game after more than 10 months out. The Scot, who suffers from a serious bowl problem, should line-up in central midfield. Anderson, Bébé, Federico Macheda, Nick Powell and Alexander Büttner should all feature as the Reds defend an outstanding record against Newcastle at Old Trafford. Newcastle has not won at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ since February 1972.

Büttner was outstanding on his debut against Wigan Athletic, while Cleverley may get some minutes after sitting out United’s win over Liverpool at the weekend.

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Capital One Cup, Old Trafford, 26 September 2012, 7.45pmBut it is to United’s under-21 side that fans will direct a collective gaze in the hope Ferguson will hand senior caps to a swathe of talented kids. In addition to Wooten and Keane, Tyler Blackett, Angelo Henriquez, Davide Petrucci, Jesse Lingard, and Larnell Cole could all play some part in Wednesday’s fixture.

Powell scored a stunning 25-yard goal on his last outing for the Reds against Wigan a fortnight ago, while many fans have waited in eager anticipation of Chilean striker Henriquez – a £4 million summer capture.

“We have some really talented young players and I’m looking forward to seeing some of them,” Rio Ferdinand told United’s official website on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to maybe seeing our new signing from Chile, Angelo Henriquez. I’m sure Nick Powell will play and I’m looking forward to seeing him again too as he’s a very exciting prospect. I’m excited to perhaps see Jesse Lingard play and I think Larnell Cole as well. There is Michael Keane at the back too.

“There are loads of them and I could go on and on and be here all day. Hopefully they can stamp their authority on the cup this year. I just think it’s a natural progression for the senior players and it becomes your duty almost to not force it on the young players but to lead the way and lead by example.

“When you need to talk to players or give them a nudge in the right direction, you’re there to do that. That’s what comes with being a Manchester United player after a few years. We want it to be as comfortable and normal as possible for the young players coming into big stadiums, in front of big crowds with big expectations. It’s a new world they are entering and, as experienced players, we want to make that a much smoother ride if we can.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle arrive in mediocre form, having slipped to 10th in the Premier League table, although the Capital One Cup offers Pardew the opportunity to rotate, while easing Fabricio Coloccini and Cheick Tiote back into the side. However, Tim Krul and former Red Danny Simpson are definitely out.

Pardew is expected to make numerous changes to the side that beat Norwich City 1-0 at the weekend.

“In respect to this competition, the Capital One Cup, we’ve got to look to win it,” claimed Pardew on Tuesday.

“We have got a tough game right from the off, going to Old Trafford. But it’s a fantastic place to go and play football, and we are going to hopefully enjoy it and get a positive result.”

Certainly, United will want no repeat of the last fixture between these sides, when Pardew’s team came out 3-0 winners at St. James’ Park last January. It was the Magpies’ first victory over Ferguson’s team in more than a decade.

Yet, United boasts a strong record in the competition despite Ferguson’s patchwork selections. Victory at Wembley in February would represent a third League Cup gong in five years, although the Reds have lost to Southend, Coventry and Crystal Palace in recent years. The 40 thousand plus who shelled out full prices to attended Wednesday’s game expect better, of course.

Match Details
Manchester United v Newcastle United – Capital One Cup, Old Trafford – Wednesday 26 September 2012, 7.45pm

Possible Teams
United (4-3-3): Johnstone; Keane, Wootton, Evans, Büttner; Fletcher, Cleverley, Powell; Bébé, Hernández, Macheda. Subs from: De Gea, Anderson, Welbeck, Lingard, Vermijl, Petrucci, Tunnicliffe, Cole, Blackett, Brady, Henriquez.

Newcastle: (4-3-3): Elliot; Perch, Williamson, S Taylor, Santon; Gosling, Tiote, Bigirimana; Obertan, Sh Ameobi, Amalfitano. Subs from: Harper, Ferguson, Tavernier, Anita, Marveaux, Vuckic, Abeid, Ba, Campbell, Sa Ameobi

Referee: Anthony Taylor

United: LWWWWW
Newcastle: LWDDDW

Last 10: United 5, Newcastle 1, Draw 4
Overall: United 77, Newcastle 40, Draw 37


Ferguson seeks Toon response

January 4, 2012 Tags: , Matches 190 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will rally his troops once again tonight in a season of some ups and far too many downs. Manchester United, fresh from New Years Eve defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford, travel to Newcastle United seeking victory, and some redemption from Saturday’s “disaster”. Not for the first this season. With title rivals Manchester City having again opened up a three-point gap in the Premier League title race, Ferguson knows that United has little margin for error in the visit to seventh-placed Newcastle.

United’s injury problems are still significant, but the United manager should welcome back veterans Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs to a starting 11 that failed so conspicuously against the Premier League’s bottom club on Sir Alex’ birthday. The duo will add experience and defensive nous, while defender Chris Smalling could also return after a bout of tonsillitis.

Ferguson must also choose between embattled goalkeeper David de Gea, who made mistakes against Blackburn, and Dane Anders Lindegaard.

Ferguson’s line-up is also likely to include Wayne Rooney, the errant striker who was dropped by Ferguson for Blackburn’s visit. Rooney, reportedly aggrieved at his treatment but willing to accept a huge fine, is likely to partner in-form Dimitar Berbatov at a venue that has been a happy hunting ground for the Reds in recent seasons. United has not lost at St. James’ Park for a decade.

But Newcastle’s improvement under Alan Pardew this season, despite losing key players in the summer, means that it is unlikely to be anything but comfortable in the north east, even if the home side’s form has tailed off over the Christmas and New Year period.

“We’re trying hard to get Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs back which would make a good difference to us,” Ferguson confirmed.

“Anderson should be better. He had 45 minutes on Saturday after four months out. Wayne Rooney will be available, of course. We had a few training sessions which he missed. You’ve got to be fit to play in this league, you can’t miss training sessions.”

However, Ferguson once again ruled out signings to patch up a United team that has tasted heavy derby defeat and been dumped out of the Champions League at the group stage. United’s loss to Blackburn on Saturday was only United’s second defeat of the league campaign – both at Old Trafford – but taken in totality the Reds are now out of two competitions, behind in the league and facing the club’s greatest rivals, away, in the FA Cup.

Ferguson says that the players United might want are not available in January, moving on from a previous assertion that there is ‘no value in the market.’

“The reason there may not be many big signings in January is because the players clubs want are not available,” Ferguson said.

“To be honest with you, who would want to sell their best player in January? I don’t see it happening. There are cases of players whose contracts are running out in the summer but they won’t get the same money anyway. It’ll be well reduced. We don’t need to do anything until the end of January. We can take our time with that one. We’ve got, say, three weeks before we can make up our mind.”

Newcastle United v Manchester United, Premier League, St James Park, 4 January 2012Ferguson may well be right, although the statement ignores previous deals United has struck for Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Andy Cole, among others. But the likelihood that United will fight it out with City for the Premier League and FA Cup without adding to a midfield that has sorely failed at times this season is concerning.

However, Ferdinand says that United’s experience will serve the side well as the season moves into its second half. The United defender, in his 10th season at Old Trafford, was in fine form before a long-standing back injury flared up again in the past fortnight. Ferdinand is likely to partner Phil Jones or Smalling in the centre of defence, with Michael Carrick returning to central midfield.

“It’s all about doing it. Many players in our squad have done things but this is the most important one. It’s not about remembering the past, it’s about trying to create more history and be a part of the history of this club. I’ll be honest – and it pains me to say it – but it was probably one of the best things that happened to us.

“We’ve got a crazy amount of injuries and illnesses, yet we’re still managing to get the results and long may that continue. The most important thing is the way the squad is playing now. The manager has said at the beginning of the season it’s not about 11 men. Since we went out of the Champions League we’ve shown a great resolve in our squad.”

That resolve is likely to be tested again, with Newcastle resurgent this season even if the side’s recent form has tailed off. Although the Geordies lost 3-1 to Liverpool last week, Pardew’s lies comfortably in the Premier League top half based on a sound defence, and the potent attacking threat of Demba Ba. This could mean Ferguson is tempted to beef up his central midfield, or deploy Park Ji-Sung in one of the wide berths.

Meanwhile, Alan Pardew will deploy Ba and Cheik Tiote for the final time before the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea on 21 January. However, Pardew is definitely without Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands, neither of whom has recovered from injury in time for the fixture.

“Looking at Manchester United’s recent games, teams that have sat back have got thumped,” Pardew admitted.

“They’ve got such talent in their ranks, they’re going to cause you problems but we have a striker in form and a central midfield pairing that I think is as good as theirs. Our back line and goalie have been resolute all year, so we’re in a good position to try and attack the game. It’s important to retain the ball against United, to make them work but it’s also important we make sure we offer a threat.”

Former United winger Gabriel Obertan should be fit for the tie with his former club. The Frenchman has featured regularly this season despite two frustrating years at Old Trafford. Indeed, the 23-year-old has broken into the French squad after the £3 million move to the north east, and could make the plane for Euro 2012 later this summer. It’s a far cry from the occasional aimless appearance in Red.

And Obertan will hope to put one over his former employers while turning around Newcastle’s recent form. The Toon has lost four of six league games since snatching a draw at Old Trafford in November.

Match Facts
Newcastle United versus Manchester United, Premier League, St. James’ Park, Wednesday 4 January 2012, 7.45pm.

Potential Line-ups
Newcastle (4-5-1): Krul; Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson; R Taylor; Obertan, Cabaye, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Gutierrez; Ba. Subs from: Vuckic, Elliot, Santon, Perch, Best, Sh Ameobi, Sa Ameobi

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Park; Rooney; Berbatov. Subs from: Lindegaard, Rafael, Fryers, Anderson, Nani, Pogba, Cole, Diouf, Hernandez, Welbeck.

Newcastle: LLDLWL
United: WLWWWW

Performance stats

  • Manchester United was brought back to earth after successive 5-0 victories over Wigan Athletic and Fulham, with a 3-2 defeat to Blackburn Rovers last weekend;
  • Nani covered the most ground for United in that game with 4.9 miles, the sixth time the Portugese winger has been the player to cover the most ground for United this season. He has now covered 108.2 miles for United this season, more than any other United playe;
  • Despite the result, one positive is Berbatov’s remarkable scoring record since returning to the United starting line-up. The Bulgarian now has six goals in three games from just eight shots at goal, an incredible conversion rate of 75 per cent;
  • The streak has sent Berbatov rocketing up the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index to 135th place, a movement of 189 places since last week;
  • Patrice Evra completed more passes in his opponent’s half than any other player in the Index in the last round of games, with 51 in total. Evra’s passing performance puts him in the top 20 for a single game this season;
  • Meanwhile, Newcastle suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool last time out, and will be hoping for a better return in front of home fans;
  • Cheick Tiote, the subject of transfer speculation, covered the most ground for Newcastle in that game with 6.33 miles. The Ivory Coast midfielder has now covered 89.9 miles for Newcastle in 12 appearances;
  • Tiote has also won 56 per cent of tackles attempted this season and made an impressive 31 interceptions.

Referee: Howard Webb (Rotherham)
Assistants: D Cann, J Collin
Fourth Official: M Atkinson

Anderson crocked but Rooney returns for Geordie clash

November 26, 2011 Tags: , Matches 94 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has ruled out strengthening Manchester United’s midfield this winter, despite a growing list of long-term injuries. Brazilian midfielder Anderson will not return until February after suffering a recurring knee injury, while Tom Cleverley is out until Christmas. The injuries leave Ferguson with just two senior central midfielders – Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick – in an area of the squad that many pundits believe is the club’s weakest.

Injuries leave Ferguson short of cover in midfield ahead of the club’s fixture with high-flying Newcastle United this Saturday, although the Scot is boosted by Wayne Rooney’s return to fitness. Although Rooney is unlikely to play in midfield at the weekend, the Scouser has been frequently used in the engine room this season. However, Ferguson, who has often stated that there “is no value in the market”, now says there are no midfielders available that are good enough for United.

“It is easy to say you are going to buy players but it is not easy to buy them for Manchester United, especially in January,” he said.

“I do not see anyone who could make us a better team. There are two or three players but they are not available, so there is no point even going there. Criticism is fine as long as it’s balanced. Anderson and Tom Cleverley have been injured and those two, in particular, have tremendous potential – they’re fantastic young players. So we’re missing two very important cogs in the machine.

“Darren Fletcher has had his issues and Michael Carrick has been injured a few times, so we’re trying to achieve a consistent midfield operation. And it’s not just the midfield – you’ve also got to look at the back four, which we’ve been changing all the time. We’ve done exceptionally well in spite of that.

“Everyone’s saying ‘go out and buy a central midfield player’. If we’d seen a young Bryan Robson or Roy Keane, we’d have been the first there. The possibilities of improving our team are not lost on us. I don’t see anyone really who that can make us a better team from the players who are possibly available.”

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Premier League, 27 November 2011The Scot will, however, welcome back captain Nemanja Vidic, who missed the midweek draw with Benfica through suspension. The Serbian is likely to be partnered by Rio Ferdinand, who will play his fifth game in a row. The former England captain has not achieved that feat in more than two years.

Elsewhere, Ferguson is unlikely to make major changes against a side that suffered its first defeat of the Premier League season last weekend. Indeed, Newcastle’s 3-1 loss to Manchester City is a blip on the Geordies’ record in an otherwise successful campaign built on solid defence, which is the joint meanest in the Premier League. Newcastle’s progress this season is all the more surprising given the loss of Andy Carroll, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan in recent months.

Meanwhile, Pardew expects both Chieck Tiote and Leon Best to return, while former United winger Gabriel Obertan should face his former club having overcome an injury that ruled the Frenchman out of the defeat to City. And the former West Ham United coach believes that Newcastle’s chances of a first victory at Old Trafford in 39 years is boosted by the Reds’ ‘transitional’ phase this season.

“United have tweaked their game, probably because of what happened in the Champions League final against Barça,” said the Newcastle manager.

“United are looking to improve and have a little bit more movement going on and a little bit more thought as to what they are doing. They are in a little bit of a transition but remain a fantastic and highly motivated team really wanting to close that gap on Manchester City.”

“Rooney’s a big part of United’s change in terms of having a bit more movement and making it a bit more problematic to pin them down. The midfield role does not diminish him. You don’t know where he’s going to go. He’s popping up everywhere.”

“Although they remain a major force, I think to play Manchester United now is probably a slight advantage because they’re in a bit of a transition. They’re getting better but the second half of the season is when they’ll really come into their own.”

However, Newcastle arrive at Old Trafford with Ferguson’s team still smarting from the disappointing draw with Benfica. The Geordies’ visit is made all the harder in the knowledge that the team has not returned from the fixture with three points in the past 27 visits. And while United is currently five points behind City in the Premier League, Ferguson’s side is actually four points better off than at the same stage last season.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Newcastle United, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 26 November 2011, 3pm

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Rafael, Pogba, Evans, Fryers, Carrick, Berbatov, Park, Valencia, Diouf.

Newcastle (4-5-1): Krul; Simpson, Coloccini, S Taylor, R Taylor; Obertan, Guthrie, Cabaye, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa; Ba. Subs from: Sa Ameobi, Elliot, Santon, Perch, Gosling, Smith, Lovenkrands, Sh Ameobi

United: WWWWDW
Newcastle: DWLWWL

Performance stats

  • Javier Hernández was on target again for United’s third successive 1-0 win since the 6-1 loss to City in September. The Mexican has now got five goals this season from just 16 attempts at goal. The goal lifted him 33 places to 35th in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Michael Carrick covered more ground than any other United player against Swansea with 9,020 metres;
  • Wayne Rooney (40) and Carrick (39) were the two players to complete the most passes in their opponent’s half in the game against Swansea, as Rooney maintained his position as the top ranked player in the Index;
  • Another clean sheet also enabled David de Gea to become the third ranked goalkeeper in the Index behind Joe Hart and Brad Friedel;
  • Newcastle’s remarkable unbeaten run came to an end against City, in a game in which Steve Taylor made four blocks. Only Vincent Kompany has made more in a single game this season with five against Wigan Athletic.

Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)
Assistants: D Bond, J Flynn
Fourth Official: C Foy