Boxing Day sees Newcastle travel to Old Trafford for the second time on this holiday in three seasons in hope of halting our slide down the table by avoiding our traditional Christmas hangover loss to a north-western opponent, as has happened six times in the last decade.
Going into the match the two sides are in contrasting form; the hosts have been great of late, after a slow start to the season they went on to win six on the trot until a draw with Aston Villa halted the streak; while the visitors are being harshly brought back down to Earth after their own winning spree, in the last couple of weeks this included two heavy defeats in North London and a late loss to our local rivals after overcommitting in the derby.
Manchester United sit in fourth with no ability to climb, only to try to close the gap over the leaders Chelsea, who may be as many as 13 points ahead by kick-off, and their local rivals Manchester City, who have a seven point cushion. Failure to win could see this season’s surprise packages West Ham and Southampton overtake them. Newcastle are currently ninth and at risk of slipping back into the bottom half for the first time since November’s run of form propelled us up to European places. A win can only take us up a place if Swansea lose to Villa.
This fixture last year was arguably the highlight of the season, despite a 1-0 scoreline. We played an attacking 4-3-3 and took the game to the hosts, dominating throughout thanks to a classy display from our midfield trio of Anita, Cabaye, and Tioté, and on the odd occasion that we did come under attack we defended admirably, included a goal-line clearance by 5’6” Anita of all people. The breakthrough came via a right-win surge from Sissoko before a cut-back for Cabaye to coolly slot home. According to the ToonForumIndex of fan ratings, this match was our best team performance of 13/14, and also Pardew’s best game of the season by some margin.
Cheick Tioté’s fifth yellow of the season earns him a suspension. We retain our place atop the injury table with no expected returns in sight this month for Rolando Aarons, Rob Elliot, Siem de Jong, Jonas Gutiérrez, Tim Krul, Gabriel Obertan, Davide Santon, and Ryan Taylor. Mehdi Abeid continues to close in on a return, and it is unknown whether Steven Taylor’s collision with the post will require any time out of action. Papiss Cissé is probably still short of full fitness and thus limited to a sub appearance.
Manchester United are having their own mini-injury crisis. Angel Di Maria may start, Chris Smalling faces a late fitness test, but Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Marcos Rojo, and Luke Shaw are all expected to just miss out, while Daley Blind is out until January.
I expect Pardew to go with the above, with the only likely deviation being Armstrong in place of Cabella. He has shown and openly stated that he doesn’t care about criticism, so he will continue to play his favourites regardless of performance, only making changes when forced to, as Tioté’s suspension will do.
Personally I’d drop Gouffran, even though he had his best game of the season against the mackems he was still utterly dire and largely anonymous, in favour of Armstrong, pushing Cabella or Pérez out wide. I’d also give consideration to playing Haïdara at left-back.
It’s Boxing Day and we’ve been in poor form, so I can easily see us losing and conceding another four goals, perhaps with a consolation goal or two, but in the spirit of Christmas I’ll be positive and predict that without Tioté in the side, who many have blamed for us losing our form, we’ll improve a bit and earn a draw. United 2-2 United.
Where to Watch/Listen
This match is televised in the UK on BT Sport 1, with coverage starting at 2:30pm. Away tickets are sold out. Local commentary, as always, is on BBC Newcastle, with BBC Radio 5 live covering the game nationally, and talkSPORT overseas.
How do you think we’ll get on in this game? Have your say in our discussion thread.
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