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Predicted XI: Cristiano Ronaldo to excite the Old Trafford crowd on his return; Jadon Sancho on the bench?

MacFinder

Manchester United will be back in Premier League action when they welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford in a traditional 3pm kick-off on Saturday afternoon. It was something that was lacking last season for United with few traditional Saturday afternoon matches because of a mixture of playing in the UEFA Europa League and matches being selected for television in the United Kingdom. This match has not been selected for TV in the UK, which is a shame as it will mark the return to the Theatre of Dreams of Cristiano Ronaldo, who re-signed for the Old Trafford club during the summer.

The first international break of the new season has just finished, which is always a daunting though so early into the new season with only three Premier League matches played before a break in the season, which then results in the return of the UEFA Champions League and the Carabao Cup in the coming weeks with United returning to the elite European competition on Tuesday evening, then starting their pursuit of the League Cup the following Wednesday. This is the crucial point of the season with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seeking to ensure he has enough players in rotation for the upcoming matches.

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

United and Newcastle have met a total of 52 times in the Premier League. United have won a total of 31 matches, drawing 14 with the Magpies winning seven times. United have scored 108 goals, winning three penalties and scoring two of them. The Magpies have scored 53 goals, winning three penalties and scoring all of them. United have kept 19 clean sheets with the Magpies keeping 11. A total of 171 yellow cards have bene shown in matches between United and Newcastle with the Red Devils shown 86 and the Magpies shown 85. There have been six red cards – three for each team.

Last season, United beat Newcastle 3-1 at Old Trafford and 4-1 at St Jame’s Park. 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, was another.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Newcastle United in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon…

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

David De Gea has started all three matches in the Premier League this season, conceding two goals, keeping one clean sheet and performing a number of good saves to deny United’s opposition from scoring, which is what he is expected to do for the Old Trafford club. United need to make a statement regarding their home form this season as all six defeats in the Premier League last season were at the Theatre of Dreams with United performing so much better away from home, breaking Arsenal’s 27-match unbeaten away record in their 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers before the international break.

The Spaniard is in good form at this stage of the season and will probably be tested by both Tom Heaton and Dean Henderson at stages the season, at least when the latter is fit after his coronavirus struggle with saw him suffer from fatigue and not actually featuring for the club during the pre-season campaign this summer. De Gea will be happy to have started the season and will be seeking to secure his number one shirt at the club with his performances. That said, there will most likely be some form of rotation during the UEFA Champions League and the Carabao Cup this month, not to mention the Premier League with United playing six times this month.

Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw

The defence is much stronger this season than it was last season. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should retain their places in the fullback roles in this back four as what they add, both defensively and offensively is a benefit for the team, despite Wan-Bissaka not getting any plaudits for his attacking style in the team. United tend to attack on the left with Shaw providing the width in that area. It might be predictable at times and there is hope that Wan-Bissaka can learn at attack on his flank, which would be good for the player in the right-wing role too. Going forward, these roles are set in stone with backup from Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles.

In the central defensive positions, Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire should retain their places. Varane, who signed for the club from Real Madrid in the summer, had a pretty flawless debut against Wolves before the international break. He still needs to find his feet in the Premier League as he has not really been tested yet, but the early signs are good. Maguire has done well for United since signing from Leicester City in the summer of 2019, starting his third season at the club. The partnership of Varane and Maguire should be a good one for United, with backup from Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Teden Mengi this season.

Midfield: Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek

There are a few problems with the midfield this season. One is that there is one defensive midfielder in Nemanja Matic with no real experienced cover in that position – other than Scott McTominay, who has recently returned to training after groin surgery. Fred is suspended because of FIFA regulations due to the international break when he did not head to Brazil, who have requested the minimum five day rule to be enacted, meaning he will not be eligible to face Newcastle or Young Boys. This will leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Donny van de Beek and Matic, plus Paul Pogba, who has played better on the left so far this season.

Against the Magpies, having Matic and Van de Beek in the midfield in the 4-2-3-1 formation would be beneficial as the Serbian could do his defensive role well with the Dutchman connecting the defence to the attack, also running into space in the box, which could find space for at attacker. I believe the Dutchman has all the attributes to find his form at United this season, after a tough 2020/21 season at the club. Pogba should play an attacking role, as he has five assists this season, which has shown the best of his abilities. It may not be the best midfield but it will have to do this season, at least until January if business can be done.

Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba

The attacking players behind the striker are important this season as they were last. At this stage of the season (after three matches) there are six goals and five assists in these places, which shows the quality in the squad. Mason Greenwood has scored in each of the three matches he has played, scoring one goal against Leeds United, Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Granted, Greenwood seems to be set to become a striker for the club in the future, but playing out of that position is only going to better his game for the rest of his career. He has some great players to learn from at this time, so that looks good for him too.

Bruno Fernandes scored a hat-trick against Leeds but has not scored or assisted in the last two matches. This match is important that he rediscovers his form and I think all the ingredients and the excitement will be there for the players, the coaches, the manager and the supporters of the club. Paul Pogba should also feature in this area of the pitch as he has five assists so far this season and seems to be better playing further forward, as has been the case since he returned to the club. United have strength in depth in these positions is changes need to happen during the match, providing the correct changes are identified as the players put in the effort.

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo

The return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United, even at the age of 36, is an exciting prospect. His career has gone from strength to strength and he has the eyes of the world on him once again as he bids to make his return to the Theatre of Dreams, this time playing in the famous red shirt bearing the prestigious number seven once again. In 292 appearances for United, from 2003 until 2009, Ronaldo scored 118 goals and 69 assists for United. He now has the chance to better those numbers and help achieve the greatest accolades with United once again – the team that the big time started for him.

In total, he has played 897 matches at club level, scoring 674 goals and 229 assists, with a further 111 goals for Portugal, in which he recently became the top goalscorer at international level. It just shows that age is just a number for the player that is Ronaldo. There are high expectations for him on his return to United and he is still determined to achieve things, suggesting that he is not returning to the club for anything other than winning. There will be many who play down Ronaldo’s talent and they will be quick to write him off because of his age but just like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, he can prove them wrong.

Substitutes: Tom Heaton; Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot; Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard; Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Elanga

Solskjaer will have a bench full of talented players, at least in their own roles. There will be many different options to change the course of the match, if need be. Tom Heaton will remain on the bench with De Gea starting his fourth match in the Premier League this season. Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly will both remain on the bench with Varane and Maguire starting in the central defensive positions. Lindelof could also offer some experience in the defensive midfield position at this time with few options in this position. Diogo Dalot will offer something on either flank in the fullback position, if a change is required in that area.

In the midfield places, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard will be on the bench, but none of them can play in the midfield positions, both offer an attacking style, either on the flanks or in the central ahead behind the striker. United seem to be stacked in that area this season, which gives many attacking options but few midfielders in the squad to offer an impact, at least with Fred and McTominay out of action at this time. In the forward roles, Anthony Martial, who has been terrible recently, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga will be able to be called upon against the Magpies, which is an exciting prospect for United, at least with Sancho and Elanga.

Written by John Walker

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