Predicted Newcastle starting 11 v Manchester United
Sunday 26 December 3pm Live On BT Sport
It was a shock when Newcastle United eventually won for the first time in 41 years at Old Trafford last December.
Arguably, it will be an even bigger (welcome) shock to the system if the players can repeat that result this time.
Even though Manchester United have looked pretty average for most of the season, they have risen to be currently best of the rest in third, a distance behind Chelsea and Manchester City.
That league placing has largely come from their home form, with only Chelsea taking a point off them at Old Trafford since the opening day loss to Swansea.
Despite the defence often looking shaky, nobody has scored more than one goal when visiting, with only four in eight games conceded since Swansea took all three points.
At the other end of the pitch, 19 goals in 9 home games for Man Utd has helped them to their seven wins at Old Trafford. They aren’t exactly the free scoring team of old though, with no outstanding goalscorer and Van Persie (7), Rooney (6) and Mata (5) leading the scoring in all competitions.
At the back Van Gaal has had a number of injuries as well as a lack of real quality, with Michael Carrick forced to fill in as an emergency centre-back. Newcastle’s best chance will surely be if they can try and put pressure on what looks a weak defence.
The Dutch manager has recognised where his strengths are in the squad and looked to play as many of his quality attacking players as possible, at times changing his formation to three at the back to accommodate extra forward players.
I fail to see how this match will end goalless, as Man Utd started away from home at Villa with Rooney, Mata, Van Persie, Falcao and Young, with Di Maria replacing Van Persie in the second half. With Valencia, Fletcher and Carrick also in their team there is an almost total absence of natural defenders.
Yesterday it was pointed out that only 6 of the 22 players who started this fixture last season are likely to feature from the start on Boxing Day. In Newcastle’s case only Sissoko and Coloccini look sure to start with the appalling Yoan Gouffran surely not getting yet another chance – the rest of last season’s team have either left, picked up injuries or others such as Anita have looked well below the standard.
I can see Alan Pardew tinkering a bit with the team and three games in the following eight days will be his justification if it all goes wrong.
I get the feeling that the Newcastle manager doesn’t want to play Remy Cabella in any game if he can help it, as usual finding it hard to give creativity a realistic chance.
I actually think our best hope is that Pardew will throw a team out expecting it to fail, a bit like against Manchester City in the League Cup. I think the manager could well set Cabella up for a fall by giving him his chance at Old Trafford and then if it all goes wrong he can use it as justification for going back to his preferred option of Yoan Gouffran as first name on his team sheet.
I’d like to see Haidara brought in to give us a bit more going forward against the suspect man U backline but I think teh manager may well stay with what he sees as a more solid back four option.
With Everton only 48 hours later I think Pardew will have already written this game off and so may well put out a more attacking formation and team selection than is his nature.
I think Cisse could well start with Perez behind him and a place found for Cabella as well.
Many fans will also welcome the absence of Cheick Tiote due to suspension, meaning Newcastle are then forced to have a more attacking look than is the case with both him and Jack Colback in the same team.
As I said earlier, if as I suspect Pardew goes with a throwaway team then I think we have a fighting chance of a surprise repeat win, it may well require at least two or more goals in an open game but I still think it is possible.
However, if the reliance is a normal Pardew team set-up to defend deep then that will play right into the opposition’s hands and invite them on where they are strong in attacking positions.
Predicted starting 11;
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