Predicted XI: [4-2-3-1] Ronaldo aiming to shoot down the Magpies once again; Sancho and Rashford to flank him – Fernandes to supplement the attack?

Manchester United return to action on Monday evening as they travel to face Newcastle United at St James’ Park in the Premier League. It will be 16 days since their last match, a 1-0 victory over Norwich City following the postponements of the matches against Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion. United have a good chance to break into the top four with these matches in hand, as long as they are played at a time where United will have the time to play matches, not at a time where they could be in Emirates FA Cup or even UEFA Champions League action, which will more than likely be the case.

United, at the time of writing, sit in sixth place in the Premier League, five points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal, 11 behind third-placed Chelsea, 14 behind second-placed Liverpool and 17 behind top of the league Manchester City. United will have a long and tough task of righting the wrongs that came at the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at the club. Newcastle sit 19th in the league and likely to find relegation to the Championship at the end of the season if this form continues. They have a -23 goal difference, three shy of Norwich’s goal difference, who are bottom of the league. Dire times for that wee club in the North East.

Previous meetings with Newcastle United and their connections with Manchester United.

United and Newcastle have played a total of 53 matches in the history of the Premier League. United have won 32 matches, drawing 14 with Newcastle winning the remaining seven matches. United have scored a total of 112 goals, winning three penalties and scoring two of them. Newcastle have scored 54 goals, winning tree penalties and scoring all of them. United have kept a total of 19 clean sheets with Newcastle keeping a total of 11 in these matches. United players have been shown a total of 87 yellow cards and three red cards with Newcastle players shown a total of 85 yellow cards and three red cards.

In recent history, there have been 11 players to play for both United and Newcastle – Peter Beardsley, Keith Gillespie, Andy Cole, Ronny Johnsen, Nicky Butt, Guiseppe Rossi, Danny Simpson, Alan Smith, Louis Saha, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen. Of these players, Andy Cole is perhaps the best performing player and most effective signing – the only one coming from Newcastle for a fee (£6 million and Gillespie back in 1995. Michael Owen, who has since turned him back on United, despite winning his only ever Premier League title at the club, seeking to get Liverpool fans to love him again, was another.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Newcastle United in the Premier League at St James’ Park on Monday evening…

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

David De Gea has grown in confidence this season, compared to last. Dean Henderson was expected to challenge him this season, like last but his battle with coronavirus, which led to fatigue has seen him play fewer matches, which could lead to a loan spell in January for the remainder of the season, or longer. It seems a shame as he is a capable goalkeeper in need of a confidence boost as he could be the number one at the club for the future, which was something that he was likely to reach at United anyway. If he leave the club permanently and makes the grade elsewhere, there will be some moaning from areas of the fan base.

De Gea is a competent goalkeeper but last season, the form was not with him. This season, the confidence has seemingly returned which has resulted in the Spaniard making the saves that he did years ago which led to him being named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season four times. United will know the calibre of the player and what he can do at the club, which is why he has started so many matches for the club. He will be rested at times, but he is still the number one goalkeeper at the club and it looks like that is not going to chase any time soon. Ralf Rangnick will continue to select him and see what happens in the not too distant future.

Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles

United’s defence is starting to find improvement so far this season. Diogo Dalot seems to have won his place as the right-back, considering the terrible form of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has made himself look like he does not fit the style of play at the club. Dalot is a more attacking player and will provide width on the right channels moving forward. Alex Telles has put in some good performances with Luke Shaw on the sidelines to a head injury, which happened in consecutive appearances for him, needing time out of playing football to recover. It could well be that these two players will be the mainstay in the team.

Raphael Varane is back from injury and could be set to start against Newcastle, which is needed to find some defensive stability and to keep United from conceding poor goals, which they have done this season, especially without him on the pitch. It seems likely that he will partner Harry Maguire in the centre of the defence, which should go a long way in helping De Gea and set United up on the attack with both players getting forward a lot of the time. If United can save the problems in defence, it could mean a lot more for them this season. There is a lot of work to get back into the title race in the league but two cup competitions are there to take, if they can.

Midfield: Scott McTominay, Fred

United’s midfield is not the best but they have been doing their jobs this season. With Paul Pogba injured and likely to be close to leaving the club and Nemanja Matic suffering injury and illness recently, Scott McTominay and Fred have been the main players in these positions. Donny van de Beek has been given a few chances, but in these two positions, he has not been the best. He will be taking on Fernandes for a place in the team and Fernandes offers much more than the Dutchman at this time – five goals and nine assists so far this season. It seems likely that Rangnick will continue with both McTominay and Fred.

The duo are not the best players to grace a midfield but they have been working hard. Fred, despite the criticism, has been a positive player but United cannot continue to rely on him to keep performing. The January transfer window could see new additions but the Winter transfer window is not the best to bring in new players, but business can be done for the right price and United will be expected to pay a lot of money for a new addition. So for now, McTominay and Fred will most likely be the trusted players to get the work down, despite not being the most ideal to do it all. We can’t have it all right now, so have to work with what United has.

Attacking Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford

This is the area that all the goals should be provided, whether scoring or assisting. Last season, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were streets ahead in terms of scoring and assisting and the former is streets ahead at this stage of the season with the latter lacking. Jadon Sancho has scored just two goals for United – both of them coming under the leadership of Michael Carrick, who has now left the club. It is important that the players in these roles are creating and assisting the goals, but also that they help when United are under attack themselves and that the players behind them also contribute.

Fernandes has not had the best season, facing criticism from the usual suspects who will always give the players who are not pulling their weight more slack, such as Anthony Martial, who has been in such poor form this season and last. In fact, he’s had two good seasons at the club but his ‘fans’ will always find the excuses for him, yet not do that for players who have been carrying the club with people like Martial not committed to the cause. Rashford will need to start putting in the work to find some form, otherwise he will cut a rather frustrated figure on the bench as other will take their chance. Sancho has improved post-Solskjaer too.

Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo

The in form Portuguese superstar has scored 13 goals and two assists so far this season and is the current top scorer, with compatriot Bruno Fernandes and forward rival Mason Greenwood both scoring five goals, although Fernandes has nine assists to Greenwood’s two. Ronaldo has given his all for United since his return and starting against Newcastle will be his aim as he scored a brace against the club on his second debut for United back in September. Some suggest that United rely on Ronaldo but the same people would be moaning if the player was benched, which has happened a few times this season.

Ronaldo has an eye for a goal but will also create space for other attacking players in the squad. If Ronaldo and Cavani actually start together, United will have two prime finishers on the pitch at the same time. United have no problems scoring the goals – the main problem is the creativity and getting the ball up to the finishers, which has been shown recently, despite United not kicking a ball for over a fortnight. Getting that problem sorted will change the fortunes of the club. Having two games in hand at this time will be a benefit for United, but only if they can find the swashbuckling form they were once known for.

Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw; Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek; Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani

Nine substitutes can be named on the bench in the Premier League with just three of them being used in a match. Rangnick has shown support for having five substitutes, which has been in play in the Carabao Cup, UEFA Champions League and will be in effect for the Emirates FA Cup next month. Whether the rules are changes, remains to be seen. Dean Henderson will be expected to be on the bench for this match, but if there is a chance of him leaving the club in January, Tom Heaton could stand in for him with De Gea expected to start the match with his form significantly better than it was last season at the club.

In defence, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw could be available with Eric Bailly selected for the Ivory Coast squad for the African Cup of Nations, it seems likely that he will not be available for much of January, if his country do well. In midfield, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek could be called upon with the midfield labelled as a problem area at the club at this time, which might be rectified during the January transfer window. In attack, with Ronaldo, Sancho and Rashford all starting, Rangnick will have Mason Greenwood and Edison Cavani available, as he confirmed Paul Pogba is the only injured player at this time.

Written by John Walker

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.