It is more than 40 years since Newcastle United last won at Old Trafford, although it is hard to reconcile that fact with David Moyes’ attitude towards the Geordie’s visit on Saturday lunchtime. In a week when Manchester United dropped four vital points in the Premier League title race, David Moyes remained stoically non-committal on the extent to which the Reds’ are likely to respond. It is, said Moyes on Friday, his “hope” that United will gain ground on Arsenal’s 12 point lead. Hope is no kind of strategy, to paraphrase former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Still, Newcastle’s visit offers Moyes’ embattled team a rapid opportunity to right a listing ship. With points dropped, pride hurt, and questions becoming increasingly hostile this week, Moyes is a man more than many in desperate need of victory this Saturday.
What better tonic than the visit of a side that has failed to secure three points at Old Trafford since 1972? Mind you, it has been a week for momentous results; Everton hadn’t secured victory at United’s home in more than two decades.
Still, Moyes’ side enjoyed a 12 match unbeaten run prior to defeat on Wednesday night, although five draws in that sequence highlight the patchy form United has enjoyed for much of the campaign. It is a funk that Moyes must rapidly lift if his side is to retain the Premier League trophy this season.
And while talk of ‘crisis’ may be premature – and entirely predictable – Moyes can only come under increasing pressure if United’s results do not turn around. Starting with Newcastle’s visit this weekend.
“Of course I understand the fans’ concerns,” said Moyes on Friday.
“They want their team to win. We need to try to improve how we are playing. We need to try to improve our results. We have had some good results. We have been on a decent run. We would like it to be better. We will have to go on another one.
“This was our first defeat in 13 games and I hope we can do something similar in the coming games. We have not had the consistency I hoped we would have. There have been some games where we have played really well, there have been others where we have been a little bit slack.”
On the pitch Moyes is not helped by the absence of key men. Wayne Rooney suspended, Robin van Persie injured, and Shinji Kagawa sick leaving the Scot to rotate his forwards.
van Persie’s remains on the sidelines with a groin problem, with Kagawa suffered breathing problems after United’s 1-0 home reverse against Everton, while Rooney picked up a fifth yellow card of the season against the Toffees. Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck could come into the side.
Rooney’s one match suspension deprives Moyes of his principle attacking threat this season, with Rooney enjoying the campaign in both striking and deeper positions. The Scouser’s revival this season is seemingly down to Moyes’ persistence is repairing a once fractured relationship between the pair.
“It is a big loss to lose Wayne,” added the Scot. “That was always going to be the case. We have not had a chance to rest him or give him a break. This has given us an opportunity. He is having Friday and Saturday off. They are probably the only days he has had off this year.
“Obviously we would rather him not be suspended. But he is and we have to try and make the most of it and keep Wayne fresh and ready to play because he has been in great form all season and we have been really pleased with him.”
Still, it is in midfield that Moyes has consistently failed to find the right formula this season, despite spending some £27 million on former Evertonian Marouanne Fellani. Moyes is likely to draft Phil Jones back into a central role, with Fellaini struggling for fitness and Giggs likely to be rested. Tom Cleverley could start despite his lack of form this season.
Meanwhile, Newcastle arrive having won five games on the bounce in November before losing 3-0 to Swansea City last weekend. The winning run relieved some pressure on manager Alan Pardew who has enjoyed a fractious relationship with owner Mike Ashley.
Pardew will wait until the last moment to assess forward Papiss Cisse, while Hatem Ben Arfa returns after missing the defeat in Wales with illness. Either way, the north east side remain confident that a first victory in more than 40 years can be achieved at Old Trafford, where West Bromwich Albion and Everton have already taken maximum points.
“We’ve beaten Chelsea and Tottenham already so to also beat Manchester United would set the tone and say a little bit about my team,” said Pardew.
“I’ve heard Newcastle’s last win at Old Trafford was in 1972 but you want to try and tip over the big teams. Pressure comes with the territory at Old Trafford and I hope we can capitalise on the pressure they’re under. It’s great to be at those clubs with all the many assets they have in terms of the size and quality of the squad but you’ve got to win every game you play.
“Manchester United can still win the league. It’s a long way back for them but they’ve proved many times over that they’re a team who improve as the season goes on. It was obviously going to be difficult for David to follow someone like Sir Alex Ferguson and the aura that the man had. But he’s trying to find his feet, he’s displaying a lot of dignity and I think he’s doing a reasonable job.”
Whether reasonable is good enough remains an open question. It hasn’t been for much of the campaign to date. Yet, with games against mid-ranked opposition including Aston Villa, Stoke City, and West Ham United to come before December is out, there is no better time for Moyes’ team to pull a run together.
You could say that Moyes hopes for it. Supporters are beginning to demand it.
Manchester United v Newcastle United, Premier League, Old Trafford, 12.45pm, 7 December 2013
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafaeil, Evans, Vidić, Evra; Cleverley, Jones; Nani, Welbeck, Januzaj; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Smalling, Ferdinand, Anderson, Fellaini, Young, Valencia, Giggs
Newcastle (4-4-2): Krul; Debuchy, Colocinni, Williamson, Santon; Gouffran, Tioté, Cabaye, Sissoko; Ré, Cisse. Subs from: Elliot, S Taylor, Dummett, Yanga-Mbwia, Haidara, Anita, Ben Arfa, Shola Ameobi, Sammy Ameobi, Bigirimana, Marveaux, Obertan
United 80 Draw 37 Newcastle 40
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: P Kirkup, S Massey
Fourth Official: N Swarbrick