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How Manchester United could line up to face Newcastle United at Old Trafford

Manchester United commence their Premier League season at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, this time welcoming Newcastle United, who returned to the pinnacle of English football by earning promotion as the champions of the EFL Championship last season. It has nearly been two years since United and Newcastle have met, over two years since the two teams last battled at the Theatre of Dreams. The last match at Old Trafford ended in a 0-0 draw with five of the starting United players no longer at the club.

United started the season in blistering form and are currently undefeated in the Premier League at Old Trafford – the last defeat coming against Manchester City on the 10th September 2016, more than a year ago. This season, United have scored plenty of goals at the Theatre of Dreams, in all competitions, not just the Premier League. It is that memory that Newcastle will need to head to Manchester with, wondering if they have what it takes to be the first team to beat United at Old Trafford this season.

Starting XI and Formation Prediction:

This season, Jose Mourinho has tested many different formations, once which has seen his side attack fluidly, others which had seen his attack effectively nullified. Injuries aside, United have looked pretty pathetic recently. The defeat away to Huddersfield Town will give Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez something to work on but it will also inspire United and Mourinho to ensure they get the victory and can head into their penultimate UEFA Champions League match on Tuesday seeking the point needed to earn a place in the knockout stages of the competition.

Mourinho seems to be an advocate of a formation with three at the back, utilising his full-backs as wing-backs, which adds more depth on the flanks going forward but also two extra men on the defence, seeing five defensive players during those times. It could, perhaps, be wrong for this sort of formation to be played at the Theatre of Dreams, but with the depth at United this season, especially with the return of Marcos Rojo, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, more attacking players could be too much for Newcastle.

I do think Mourinho will adopt a four-man defence against Newcastle but he may opt to change things up with a substitution, which could see more players going forward and United using their width to get something, especially with the ‘plan B’ option of using Marouane Fellaini to push for a much-needed goal, which was the case against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before the last international break of 2017, a match which United lost 1-0, which was a 4-0 defeat last season.

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Goalkeeper: David De Gea

The Spanish number one will be seeking a return to winning ways in the Premier League against Newcastle United after a good international break with Spain. De Gea will be seeking a clean sheet, which will help keen Old Trafford fortress-like, also putting him in a good position to show himself as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season. De Gea has been the difference for United during some of the most recent matches, putting in save after save and showing his class, which is what he needs to do.

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Defence: Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind

United’s defence is starting to gain strength again. Marcos Rojo suffered a knee injury in April, which he has been working to return from. The Argentinian defender made his return to action for the U23’s in the Premier League International Cup this week, helping to earn a 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao. Last season, Rojo and Eric Bailly formed a strong partnership, which would be good to see this season, but could take some time to strike again.

Antonio Valencia, fresh from a rest during the last fortnight, will also be raring to go and show Newcastle that they are still the ‘wee club from the North East’ which Sir Alex Ferguson branded them some years ago. The left-back role could be something of a problem for United with Luke Shaw still not earning the trust of the manager and tipped to leave in January, which could see Daley Blind, who played in both friendly matches for the Netherlands, come back into the team.

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Midfield: Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini

The midfield has lacked quality, consistency and creativity for some time now. For the last umpteen matches, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera have been paired together with Michael Carrick, Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini all injured and United losing their midfield depth. Fellaini returned, from the bench, against Chelsea and Pogba is fit to be involved in the match this weekend. Based on this, I don’t think the Frenchman will start, but it all depends on what Mourinho thinks at the end of the day.

I have picked Matic and Fellaini, both not playing a match for their countries during the break, which would be better than it has been, perhaps with Pogba coming on later in the match to help change the game or keep any distance created there to ensure United take all the points. United are currently eight points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City. It is important to keep winning matches, which if City win also, will not change anything, but could keep United in second place in the league, waiting to pounce.

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Attacking Midfield: Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial

United’s attacking midfielders have not been in the best form recently. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been the shadow of the player we all know he can become. He played for Armenia during the international break, scoring his 25th goal for his country (scoring in both matches) which could well boost his confidence ahead of Newcastle United, a team he should be able to turn on the magic for. There is a statistic that when Mkhitaryan and Mata have started, United have a 100% win rate in those matches, scoring an average of 3.2 goals per match. When the pair

When the pair have not started, United have a 20% chance of winning, also scoring 0.8 goals per match on average. Stats are not necessarily there to suggest this will be the case, but it is very fitting and shows the quality both players have when played to their strengths in a side ready to take the mickey out of their opposition – as United have done on occasion this season. Anthony Martial gets the nod over Marcus Rashford to start with the now 20-year-old playing frequently and may benefit from the break.

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Striker: Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku failed to score a single goal for Manchester United between the last two international breaks of the season. The Belgian did score three goals for his country in the last two matches, reaching a record 31-goals, which is not officially recognised by FIFA, but it still some feat for the 24-year-old. Lukaku now has confidence heading into a home match against Newcastle, a team he could devastate if United play the game in the way they have faced West Ham United, Swansea City and even Everton this season.

Lukaku is a player United needed to sign, a true out-and-out striker, one who could achieve everything at the club. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is fit to play after his injury, suffering a knee injury at the same time as Marcos Rojo, deemed to be a bigger injury and now ready to fight for his place at his club, in a bid to finish what was started last season. Ibrahimovic is expected to play as a number ten, which has been suggested in the news and by the player himself, which could create that special thing in attack for United – especially Lukaku.

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