Manchester United will travel to St James’ Park to face Newcastle United in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. This will be the final match with the Magpies this season. Erik ten Hag’s side have drawn 0-0 with the Magpies in the Premier League at Old Trafford earlier this season, beating them 2-0 in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley at the end of February to lift the first domestic trophy of the season. United will be seeking to win this match to keep their place in the top four.
Newcastle sit in fifth place in the Premier League ahead of this fixture with Eddie Howe’s side just three points behind United – level on 26 matches being played to far this season. A win could see the Magpies rise above United because of their superior goal difference of +20 with United’s sitting at +6. Tottenham Hotspur sit in fourth ahead of matches being played this weekend – a point behind United having played two matches more at this stage of the season.
Spurs do not play until Monday evening, when they travel to Everton so if United are defeated or draw with the Magpies, Spurs could literally leapfrog United into third place in the Premier League. United’s games in hand over Spurs will mean they need to keep winning to stave off any problems. Beating the Magpies will give Spurs no chance of leapfrogging United as the gap will be four points meaning a Spurs win would end up with them still being a point behind United.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
There is a lot being said about David De Gea at this stage of the season. It is clear that he has been an integral part of United over the last decade but there have been times whereby many have rightly criticised him for what he has done. United will ultimately need to move on from him one day and that could be something that happens soon. His contract is up at the end of the season – although there is an additional one-year option on his last contract.
That will need to be activated by the club though. That does not seem likely as United seem to want him on new terms giving him a new contract with a much lower salary. That said, De Gea is the likely goalkeeper to start on Sunday with Tom Heaton out with an ankle injury and Jack Butland not tested for United so far since his loan move to the club was confirmed in January. I can’t see any of the younger goalkeepers starting either. At least not this season.
De Gea will start after a two-week rest at St James’ Park on Sunday – that seems clear but he will need to have a good game and do all he can to help get United the three points on offer. If Newcastle beat United and pushed them into fourth place and Spurs beat Everton on Monday, it would see United slip out of the top four since they were last out of it in match week 17. United will need to have the players to get this win, which will be a tough one for both teams.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United’s defence have had a positive season but it could have been so much better and will need to be a lot better heading into next season. Ten Hag seems settled on his first-choice central defensive partnership in Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez. Luke Shaw seems to be the first-choice in the left-back role but at right-back, there is a battle for either Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Diogo Dalot to be the first-choice player in that position – both have good attributes.
Against the Magpies, I think that Varane, who has been injured coming into the international break and Martinez will be the chosen central defensive partnership at St James’ Park on Sunday. They both compliment each other and get the job done most of the time. I find Harry Maguire to be slow and cumbersome and Victor Lindelof to panic too much which does not install me with confidence. The defence will need to be strong without Casemiro on the pitch.
Shaw will keep his place at left-back after having a bit of a rest over the last fortnight, playing one match for England and getting sent off, missing the second one. He will be refreshed and ready to get back to the grind of helping United achieve this season – they are still in three competitions – not that the Premier League is up for grabs for them but there is a UEFA Champions League place up for grabs. Wan-Bissaka should start at right-back – I think he offers more than Dalot.
Midfield: McTominay, Sabitzer
United’s midfield will continue the blow od Casemiro being suspended for four matches, serving one prior to this match with two more to come after it. That said, he will be eligible to play in the UEFA Europa League as United welcome Sevilla to Old Trafford on the 13 April then three days later he will be back in Premier League action against Nottingham Forest. Against the Magpies, Scott McTominay and Marcel Sabitzer could be partnered – which could be good.
McTominay scored four goals for Scotland in the international break – two of those against Spain. It looked like a proven goalscorer and could give United some good options should he still be in that kind of form this weekend. He is a good squad player but that seems to be the heights that he will reach at United with him not really getting past Casemiro, Eriksen, Sabitzer or Fred – which is a shame. He could be sold in the summer. For now he will get a chance.
Sabitzer also found the back of the net for Austria during the international break, scoring two goals and assisting another. He struck his first United goal against Fulham in the Emirates FA Cup prior to the International break and could be about to start showing his worth for United for the remainder of the season – seeking to gain a permanent move from Bayern Munich in the summer, which would be great for both teams as United need midfield experience.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
The attacking ranks for United are where the goals are this season. Antony has seven goals and one assist to his name this season – eight goal contributions. Bruno Fernandes has 10 goals and 10 assists – 20 goal contributions so far and Marcus Rashford has 27 goals and seven assists – 34 goal contributions. Between all three of them, that is 44 goals and 18 assists – 62 goal contributions in total. It could be so much better but that is good for three players this season.
Antony should start on the right-wing as Jadon Sancho has not been in great form since his return from three months out of action earlier in the season. The Brazilian is a good talent but he will need to find his firm and start supporting the attack. He works well with Wan-Bissaka playing behind him and that could work well against the Magpies. Fernandes seems to pick himself this season. Granted, there has been lots of frustration but he’s a top player for the club.
Rashford is the player in form this season but he needs to be at the top of his game to continue his goalscoring exploits for United. With 27 goals scored in all competitions so far, this is his best season for United and it should get better from here for him. It has been seven years since he was given his debut with Martial injured in the Europa League and since then he has become the 19th top scorer for the club – one more goal and he would equal Andy Cole’s 121-goal haul.
Anthony Martial has made just 14 appearances so far this season, missing more matches that he has been available for because of injury. He has six goals and two assists. He has been returning from his latest injury for the best part of a month and now needs to be back in action to help United score the goals as Wout Weghorst, despite his good positioning, has not done the job as the main striker for the club. Martial owes it to United to find his form, and quickly.
It could well be that his future at the club has already been decided with in proneness to injury hitting this season, but in prior seasons he has had problems both major and minor – which can happen to any footballer in their career. At the start of the season, during pre-season, Martial looked like that player that United signed back in 2015 but injury soon hit. He has looked interested and ready to shine on his other returns from injury but it has not quite worked.
At this stage of the season, United need a striker they can rely on and looking at the form of both Martial and Weghorst, neither of them look like the player that will bag the goals for the club. However, there is time for that to change and should Martial hit the ground running, he could salvage something prior to the summer, which if things go to plan and United have new owners, could be a big summer transfer window for United. Martial knows what he can do – it’s time.
Substitutes: Butland; Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia, Dalot; Fred; Sancho, Weghorst, Pellistri
Ten Hag will have nine players on the bench in the Premier League – able to use five of them during the duration of the match. Things are much difference for the Dutch manager at this stage of the season with more first team quality players on the bench to help his team win their matches. Tom Heaton is out of action for the foreseeable future so Jack Butland could well be on the bench against the Magpies, should he be required to take part in the match for any reason.
In defence, United are the strongest here in terms of the number of options. Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Tyrell Malacia and Diogo Dalot could all be available to be called on should something need to be changed throughout the match. It gives Ten Hag plenty of options to reinforce the defence or change the fullbacks to add more on the attack. In the midfield, however, he looks set to just have Fred available with injury and suspension still causing problems.
In attack, United have three options – Jadon Sancho, Wout Weghorst and Facundo Pellistri. Anthony Elanga is also an option but what he has offered this season does not warrant him to be picked over other players – even if he did score for Sweden during the international break. United will need to find the form they were in prior to the international break and keep that running as April will see United play nine times, still with another match to be rearranged for May.
Written by John Walker