BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
VENUE – Old Trafford (Capacity – 75,811)
KO – 1300 GMT
REFEREE – Mark Halsey
Manchester United’s first draw of the season saw the lead at the top cut to 4 points with Manchester City winning against Reading on Sunday. It was an unusually dire attacking performance from United with Rooney having a nightmare. The rest of the team was no better and Carrick is probably the only one that would have got a pat on the back from his manager. With the hectic festive season, Ferguson and his team do not have much time to malign themselves. Newcastle United are the visitors on Boxing Day and despite not being able to replicate the form of last season, the Magpies are a strong outfit. Injuries have plagues them this season with the likes of Ryan Taylor out for the season. Ben Arfa, who was a revelation last season, is also out with a hamstring injury. Alan Pardew’s men have gone 9 games without an away win in the premier league and when Old Trafford is the venue, hopes do not get any better. The Magpies finished 5th last season while they languish down in 14th place this season. Both the teams will be desperate for 3 points but for very different reasons. Against the London side, Newcastle hardly conjured up many chances on goal and with Manchester United looking to be mean in defense again it could be a long shift for Pardew’s men.
Manchester United was held to their first draw of the season against Swansea on Sunday. The inability of the team to score despite chances galore was a rare sight this season. Robin van Persie has been at the forefront of an attacking force that has scored 44 goals in 18 games this season. They are the highest scorers in the league this season but were unable to breach the Swansea goal more than once. Rooney had an untypical poor game and so did most of the starting lineup on Sunday. The return of Vidic is a big boost for the team given the defensive lapses Ferguson’s men have had this season. Patrice Evra, despites scoring the team’s only goal had a poor game. Many of Swansea’s attacks came down the right and for the goal Routledge had a free run for the shot which eventually to Michu’s equalizer. Michael Carrick had an outstanding game but was let down by his teammates. Young’s crossing was a letdown while Valencia had an average outing. The performance on Sunday was no better than a Championship side and they need to improve a lot on that performance.
The Magpies had a dream run in the league last season. Alan Pardew’s team finished 5th and qualified for the European competitions. They played some brilliant football last season. Unfortunately for the manager and the fans, the same form is nowhere to be seen. They are dropping points at home whilst unable to win away. Injuries have definitely played their part but somehow last season’s magic is missing. Demba Ba, the club’s top scorer last season has continued his form infront of goal but the rest of the team has failed to follow suit. Ba has 11 goals while the next best Papiss Cisse has only 4 goals. Clearly something is not right within the team this season and the points table illustrates the point. Pardew has his work cut out if he is to come anywhere near to last year’s success. They visit the Theatre of Dreams, one of the toughest grounds to go to, in the country. The Magpies have a wretched away form this season and it seems improbable that the visitors will leave Old Trafford with anything. They have the talent to upset the odds though but only if they click as a team which they haven’t all season.
Manchester United – Sir Alex Ferguson has seen his defensive problems ease up a lot with Vidic making a full return against Swansea. Rafael, overworked this season, has finally succumbed to a hamstring injury. He is expected to return next week but there is no guarantee. Smalling and Jones are cover-ups for the injured Brazilian. Vidic and Ferdinand might resume their partnership in the centre of defense but Evans’s form this season may have something to say about it. Evra had a poor game against the Welsh side will continue at left back. The partnership of Carrick and Cleverly may be broken with Scholes taking Cleverly’s position. The young midfielder had one of his off days on Sunday and may pay with his place in the lineup. The absence of the Portuguese winger Nani means Young and Valencia will start on the wings as Kagawa is still away from first team action. Rooney and Persie will continue upfront despite the former’s abysmal game on Sunday. Hernandez and Welbeck will be involved in the busy festive schedule.
Newcastle United– The Newcastle manager has been dealing with a lot of injuries this season. The treatment table does not seem to have eased up. Barring the long term injuries to Ryan Taylor and his deputy Vukicic, the club still has 4-5 first team regulars out. The likes of Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Stephen Taylor among others are still on the medical facility. These players played key roles last season and are an important part of the team’s core. Despite missing these players, Newcastle still has an array of talent at their disposal. The Argentinean Jonas Guiterrez is a starter on the left wings while Anita, usually a central midfielder may start on the right side. Gabriel Obertan, the former Manchester United man may get a chance to impress against his old team. Danny Simpson, another ex Manchester player will start on the right full back position while David Santon, signed from Inter Milan is the first choice at left back. Coloccini and Williamson are the preferred partnership at the centre of defense with Tim Krul between the sticks. Tiote and Perch is the partnership that Pardew prefers in the absence of Cabaye. Cisse and Demba Ba have a good understanding between them and will start the match upfront if the manager decides on 4-4-2 formation.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney– The English international had a bad day against Swansea and it clearly showed in the display of the team. The striker is United’s talisman and he needs to be on his game against Newcastle. After the poor performance at Liberty Park he will be man on a mission and Newcastle might be on the receiving end. He loves playing against Newcastle and has a habit of scoring audacious goals against the Magpies.
Newcastle United – Sean Morrison – The English central defender has been one of the rare shining lights of a rather disappointing season thus far for the club. He will have to be on the top of his game if Reading is to hold out the might Manchester United. Rooney, Persie, Hernandez and others will be gunning for goals and if Morrison and company are not careful , this might turn into an long 90 minutes for the side.