A home defeat is hard to take no matter how it happens, but when said failure is coupled with both of your primary title rivals winning away from home, it’s best to avoid take a peek at the league table, even if you’re not nearly as far behind as it might feel.
Such defeats also increase the importance of winning away from home, so today’s trip to Newcastle needs to be more profitable than the last two trips to the stadium formerly known as St. James’ Park. A draw today would certainly be a much better result than January’s 3-0 defeat, but with Chelsea and City both winning easily at home yesterday, a mere point wouldn’t be much to celebrate.
Newcastle aren’t likely to be as generous as Norwich and Sunderland, as home defeats have been a rarity under Alan Pardew. In the four months Chris Hughton was in charge in their top-flight return two years ago, Newcastle were 2-3-3 at home, with losses to powerhouse teams Blackpool, Stoke, and Blackburn. Since Pardew took over in December 2010, Newcastle are 17-11-5 at home, including a mark of 13-6-3 over the last season-plus. While two of those five wins belong to City, none belong to United, who preceded January’s capitulation with a goalless draw the previous April.
Strong defensive work has been a hallmark of Newcastle’s home success under Pardew. In their last 26 Premier League ties at the friendly confines, the Magpies have surrendered multiple goals only six times and posted 11 clean sheets. To compare for comparison’s sake, United allowed multiple goals seven times and posted 14 clean sheets in their last 26 home league ties, while the numbers are four and 14 respectively for City and seven and eight respectively for Chelsea.
As such, United need to send out those who will put the most pressure on the Newcastle back line and keep keeper Steve Harper busy. There’s no shortage of options to choose from, and multiple combinations of those options could bring about success, but the first two names on the teamsheet need to be Rooney and Van Persie, who are making up for lost time well after having little time together on the pitch to open the season. After being at the center of United’s unsuccessful rally against Spurs as a second-half sub, Rooney assisted on both of RVP’s goals in Tuesday’s Champions League win at CFR Cluj, and it would seem that it‘s only a matter of time before he opens his account for the season.
Speculating about selection specifics elsewhere can be an exercise in frustration when you consider what there is (two keepers who are worthy of a starting position, for example) and isn’t (no Vidic), but the horrors of last Saturday could well have a role in who isn’t and isn’t in at the start today.
Whoever is in, restricting the time Newcastle have on the ball and how much space they have to roam and create is key, as last week’s defeat provided the latest example in the elementary lesson that failing to do those things properly can prove mortal. Newcastle have been blanked at home only five times in the league under Pardew, in which time they’ve hit multiple goals more than 50% of the time (18 times in 33 matches). United know what Demba Ba (presently in form) and Papiss Cisse (starting to get there) can do, so it’s all a matter of not allowing to do it, not least through affecting the quality of the balls they receive and ensuring that any quality deliveries aren‘t profited from.
It’d also be ideal to avoid falling behind as United have been too prone to do thus far this season, even though deficits have been handled well with the exception of last Saturday and the season opener at Everton. It goes without saying, really, but falling behind should not be a prerequisite for playing your best.
That’s a setup for another nervy matchday, but whether it’s a smooth ride or a rollercoaster, United need to come away from their travels to Tyneside with three points. Will it happen? We’ll find out in a few short hours, but given the incredible record over the last several seasons in regards to avoiding back-to-back league defeats, the odds are well in favor of a bounce-back today.