In a long season, there are going to be setbacks, no matter who you are. That’s a guarantee. But it’s how you respond to those setbacks that matters, and Manchester United will look to provide their usual response to rare setbacks when they take on Newcastle United tonight at Sports Direct Arena. The shock home defeat to Blackburn on New Year’s Eve was a setback that no one could have seen coming, especially given the form that United were in coming into the match, but what’s happened has happened, and though a win tonight won’t take away the stink from Saturday’s setback, it will see a winning start to 2012, and more importantly, it will keep United right where they need to be in the Premier League title race.
1. After starting the season with an 11-match unbeaten streak, Newcastle have struggled for the last month and a half, going 1-2-5 in their last eight matches. They did snap a six-match winless run with a 2-0 win at Bolton on Boxing Day, but they followed that with last Friday’s 3-1 defeat at Liverpool, which marked the fifth time in their last eight matches that they’ve allowed three or more goals.
In that unbeaten run, Newcastle picked up 25 points, and they were sitting third in the Premier League table and six points back of City heading into a match at City on 19 November. Now, they sit seventh in the table, 18 points back of City, seven points back of fourth-placed Chelsea, and only one ahead of Stoke City, who sit eighth.
2. Newcastle’s unbeaten run was due in no small part to being fantastic defensively, and their recent struggles are due in no small part to falling apart defensively. In their first 11 matches, Newcastle allowed only eight goals, but in their last eight matches, they’ve surrendered 17 goals.
3. When it comes to scoring, Newcastle are ninth in the league in goals with 26, and more than half of those 26 goals have come directly from one source. Demba Ba has netted 14 times this season, which sees him tied for second with Sergio Aguero in the Premier League scoring charts, three behind Robin van Persie and one ahead of Wayne Rooney.
4. Newcastle were 4-2-0 in their first six home matches, but in their last three home matches, they’re 0-1-2, with defeats to Chelsea and West Brom sandwiched around a goalless draw against Swansea City.
1. After nine away matches last season, United were unbeaten, but they had seven draws and only two wins. United are unbeaten at the same point this season, but it’s with seven wins and two draws. What a difference a year makes, eh?
United have won their last five away matches, and they’ve posted a clean sheet in each of those five matches. And after scraping by with 1-0 wins in the first three of those five matches, United have turned it up a few notches in the last two, scoring seven goals in wins at QPR and Fulham.
That away record has helped soften the blow of three disappointing home results, and they’ll need to keep it up today to keep pace with City, who pulled three points clear with last night’s 3-0 win over Liverpool.
2. United have allowed all of three goals away from home this season, and after making some costly defensive mistakes against Blackburn, a strong defensive performance will be a welcome sight tonight.
Considering what happened the last time United lost in the league, things would appear to be promising for tonight in that aspect. After the defeat to City, United went on a nine-match unbeaten run in the league, and in that run, they scored 21 goals and allowed only two, and they posted seven clean sheets.
3. United have been strong in attack in the last several weeks, scoring 18 goals in their last five matches, and we should see no shortage of chances created tonight.
However, will United be justly rewarded for all of those chances? Keeper Tim Krul and Newcastle’s back line have performed extremely well against United in the last two meetings between the sides, keeping a clean sheet in last April’s goalless draw at St. James’ Park and somehow limiting United to only one goal in November’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
But for what it’s worth, United weren’t finishing nearly as well as they should have been in that November draw, which made almost as much of a difference as Newcastle’s defensive performance did.
4. After not even being on the bench on Saturday, Wayne Rooney returns to the starting lineup tonight, and he’ll be joined up front by Dimitar Berbatov, who has earned a continued place in the starting XI with six goals in his last three matches.
Also, Rio Ferdinand returns to the starting lineup, which means that Michael Carrick returns to his usual place in the center of midfield, something that will most certainly benefit United tonight.
And last but not least, Anders Lindegaard gets the start tonight in goal ahead of David de Gea, who had a forgettable afternoon against Blackburn, and with all respect to De Gea, Lindegaard’s presence should be a good omen for United. Coming into tonight’s match, Lindegaard has started five Premier League matches, and in those five matches, he’s posted five clean sheets. The result in those five matches? Five United wins – v. Norwich, Sunderland, and Wigan, and at Aston Villa and Fulham.
Manchester United: Lindegaard; Valencia, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Giggs, Park; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs: De Gea, Rafael, Anderson, Pogba, Lingard, Hernandez, Welbeck.
Newcastle United: Krul, Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon, R.Taylor, Cabaye, Tiote, Gutierrez, Ba, Shola Ameobi. Subs: Harper, Perch, Vuckic, Obertan, Ben Arfa, Ameobi, Best.
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