When Manchester United last visited St James’ Park in January, heavy defeat told only part of the story that week. Demba Ba’s volley and a fine free-kick from Johan Cabaye helped to inflict a 3-0 loss on Sir Alex Ferguson’s men – it came just four days after relegation bound Blackburn Rovers’ New Year’s Eve victory at Old Trafford. Five months out from the season’s dénouement and United’s domestic challenge appeared every bit as forlorn as that in Europe.
Yet, defeat on Tyneside marked a sea change in United’s fortunes, with Ferguson’s men first challenging and then overtaking Manchester City in the Premier League title race in the Spring. History concludes that United’s challenge was unsuccessful, but that 4 January defeat to Newcastle seemingly sparked the Reds’ campaign into life.
The new season brings new challenges, of course, but just a week after defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, Ferguson can only hope that a modicum of history does not repeat at St. James’ Park on Sunday.
However, United’s inconsistent performances to date have already brought two Premier League defeats in six games; it’s a loss ratio that cannot be maintained as the season progresses if Ferguson wants his team to challenge. In Europe narrow victories over opposition bodes well for European qualification at least, although performances have been far from stellar either.
Indeed, defeat to Spurs last weekend came amid one of the worst 45 minutes performance during Sir Alex’ Old Trafford reign; that first half followed, at least, by a hugely impressive attacking effort in the second that only just failed to bring Ferguson’s men a result.
Still, United’s form in the first nine games of the season leaves supporters wondering if, and when, the Reds’ season will spark into life. Few hope the kindling required is another defeat on Tyneside.
“In the second half of the season we had to do something, when you lose a game you have to do something,” said Ferguson of last January’s defeat at St. James’.
“We lost a game to Tottenham and we have to recover again. Hopefully we can get the result on Sunday. It won’t be easy, it is always a difficult place to go, Newcastle. I think under Alan Pardew they have become a really committed team. But after what happened in the game against Tottenham we need to get on the road in terms of recovery.”
“I watched Newcastle last night and they played a few of their squad and left a few others out. But they still won convincingly. It was a good performance and a good result for them.
“Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse both have good scoring records. They rested Ba last night and played Shola Ameobi. I’m not sure what combination it will be on Sunday. Ba and Ameobi are both strong, while Cisse has scored some fantastic goals for them. The third goal last night was excellent.”
If United is to get a result at St. James’ then Ferguson’s men will do so without a plethora of injured players. Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will again be absent from the back-four, while Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia sit out another fixture. However, Ferguson will welcome back Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs to the travelling party after the midfield trio missed United’s trip to Cluj in midweek.
Ferugson will retain Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans at the heart of United’s defence after the Ulsterman overcame a dead leg picked up against CFR Cluj on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling is one step nearer full fitness after the
“It was just a dead leg he picked up last Saturday against Tottenham,” said Sir Alex.
“I took him off towards the end [of the Cluj game]. Smalling has started training on the football side. That helps us, particularly as we have a problem at centre-back. Ashley will start training while the internationals are on, particularly during the second week. He could, at a stretch, be back for the Stoke game.”
Wayne Rooney should start alongside Robin van Persie at Newcastle, although Ferguson faces a difficult choice where to deploy the former Evertonian with Shinji Kagawa waiting to return. The Japanese midfielder sat out United’s narrow victory in Romania on Tuesday night, and may have to settle for a role on the left side of midfield.
Meanwhile, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew can point to some improved for after the Magpies dispatched Bordeaux 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday night. Underwhelming results, including a succession of draws, has seen Newcastle slip to 10th in the Premier League. Yet the Magpies have hit top form at just the right time, with former Red Gabriel Obertan imperssing on Thursday.
“You can bet your life this place is going to be rocking on Sunday after that performance,” said Pardew after Newcastle’s victory on Thursday night. “It is going to be a tough game for us and a tough game for Manchester United for sure.” (AM)
Of that there is little doubt.
Newcastle United v Manchester United – Premier League, St. James’ Park – Sunday 7 October 2012, 4pm
Newcastle (4-3-3): Harper; Perch, Williamson, S Taylor, Santon; Bigirimana, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa, Cisse, Ba. Subs from: Elliot, Ferguson, Tavernier, Anita, Cabaye, Tiote, Obertan, Sh Ameobi, Sa Ameobi
United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs from: De Gea, Büttner, Wootton, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Macheda, Hernández, Welbeck.
Referee: H Webb
Assistants: M Mullarkey, D Cann
Fourth Official: K Friend
Last 10: Newcastle, United, Draw
Overall: Newcastle, United, Draw
- Newcastle fans were spared defeat last week with talismanic frontman Demba Ba scoring twice in the second half against Reading to ensure a point returned north with the Magpies;
- Jonas Gutierrez turned in a typically hard-running performance against, covering 5.37 miles, the most of any Newcastle player;
- French midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa continues to trouble defences this season, making nine dribbles to date – he is joint second on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
- Papiss Cisse’s performances this season have been aided by the player’s speed – the striker clocked 20.26mph, the quickest of any player on the park last weekend;
- Defender Mike Williamson has gone quietly about some solid defensive work so far this season, making 31 interceptions and 5 blocks;
- Michael Carrick covered 6.67 miles against Spurs last weekend, in a team total of 64.46 miles – a season high;
- Carrick has also received the ball more than any other United player, having been passed to 420 times by his teammates this season;
- At 37 Paul Scholes’ enduring influence remains – no other player in the United squad has completed more passes in the opponent’s half than the midfielder – 189;
- Jonny Evans was United’s quickest player against Spurs – recorded at 19.96mph;
- Bought for his creativity, Shinji Kagawa’s defnesive work has been surprising – the former Borussia Dortmund has successfully won 86 per cent of tackles attempted so far this season.