‘Ba Humbug’. It’s the headline all Newcastle fans want to see; they want to ruin the Christmas of all those poor Manchester children taken to Old Trafford for their one game of the season after a hard year working the chimneys. Or not. But in any case I find it highly unlikely even the in-form Senegalese striker will be able to put much of a dent in Manchester United’s chances of taking all three points on Boxing Day. There are three main reasons that spring to mind- other than ‘Manchester United are a better football team than Newcastle’ (which wouldn’t make much of an article): the deployment of a well-oiled formation, a hungry striker and a notable absentee from Newcastle’s line-up.
Four-Four-Two during the Christmas Chaos
This month Fergie has reverted back to the good ol’ fashioned, meat-and-two-veg, turkey-and-stuffing 4-4-2 after experimenting with different combinations, which had been the equivalent of trying to roast both goose and guinea fowl for Christmas lunch using a new oven. The catalysts for this change were three-fold: Rooney started scoring again when placed alongside Van Persie, the system had worked well enough to beat Chelsea and City away, and with such a busy fixture schedule it made sense to play a well understood system that works to the team’s strengths- i.e. utilising two top class strikers and stretching the game with width and overlapping full backs.
Away at Swansea was the first time this season really that the system didn’t do the job. To be fair it did look a tricky fixture, one likely to produce United’s first draw of the season, and a large part of their failure to take all three points must be attributed simply to Rooney having a complete stinker, and his replacement Hernandez having a mare of similar proportions. With this in mind, it’s time for this season’s most frustrated bench warmer to prove himself…
Welbeck fancies it
It’ been a disappointing season so far for Welbeck, but he was always the most likely to suffer from the signing of Van Persie, given Hernandez’s greater ability as an impact striker. He’s not had a proper look-in in the Premier League since QPR this time last month, but, with four games in ten days, he must sense that now is his chance to prove he’s worth more than the occasional substitute appearance and a start in a Champions League dead rubber.
There’s a chance he’ll be deployed out on the left to give Young a rest, but it would be a shame to use such a hungry striker in this way; he’s also not particularly great in that position. I would instead love to see Giggs play out on the left, after his man-of-the-match 15 minute performance against Swansea in this position on Saturday. If Welbeck does get the chance up front, he’ll fancy himself to beat the decidedly shaky Newcastle defence, and I for one would back him all the way. The Magpies may have beaten QPR- not quite such an easy feat nowadays- but their shakiness extends beyond their defence as well…
No Tiote, no chance
Newcastle are still relying on fringe players to do the business, and let’s be honest, they’re not up to much. Other than an impressive-looking Anita, the absence of influential creators Ben Arfa and Cabaye leave the Magpies without any real quality cover. Tasked with an away game at Old Trafford though, where they haven’t won in 40 years (as in before any of the current squad were alive, even Steve Harper not yet a twinkle in his parents’ eyes), it’s the destructive force of Cheick Tiote whom they’ll really miss.
With Tiote out, Newcastle are missing the man who held the team together in last season’s fixture at St James’ Park. I vividly remember his performance that day; he harried Manchester United’s midfield better than any domestic opposition managed all season. One teenager possessing basic editing software and too much time on his hands even constructed a video montage of his incredible performance that day. Without their glue, it seems logical (based on this strained analogy) that Newcastle will become quickly unstuck. Indeed, Tiote did play at St James Park two months ago- United opting to bypass him throughout the match- and without a real replacement, they look to be in even more serious trouble.