Premier League | Old Trafford | Sat 22 Aug | 12:45pm
Memphis Depay cuts loose and lights up the Premier League.
MAN UTD FORM
- Man Utd 3-1 C. Brugge (CL)
- Villa 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-0 Spurs (Prem)
- PSG 2-0 Man Utd (F)
- Barca 1-3 Man Utd (F)
- Swansea 2-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 2-2 So’ton (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-1 Gladbach (F)
- York 2-1 Newcastle (F)
- Sheff Utd 2-2 Newcastle (F)
Another Premier League matchday, another solid but unspectacular win for Manchester United. It is hard to know whether to treat their early form as ominous or streaky but, considering Louis van Gaal’s team is very much a work in progress, their win at Aston Villa last Friday – with Wayne Rooney virtually a passenger – was encouraging enough.
Their Champions League play-off win over an admittedly underwhelming Club Brugge kept things ticking along and there was one particular cause for optimism in the form of Memphis Depay. Moved out to the left after looking peripheral as a No.10, the new signing from PSV scored two superb goals and – for the first time since his arrival – gave the distinct impression that he has the explosiveness that this team has lacked.
Steady on, you might say – and rightly so, because the Belgian side were not dissimilar in quality or approach to the teams Depay thrived against back in the Netherlands, and England’s top flight poses an altogether different challenge. But we did catch a few glimpses of the shift in gear that Van Gaal clearly wishes his team to employ this season and, at some stage, you suspect it will manifest itself sufficiently to give somebody a real beating.
Will that be Newcastle? It has been ‘Plus ca change...’ so far under Steve McClaren, both in terms of performance – a reasonable enough home draw with Southampton followed by a limp 2-0 defeat at Swansea – and some of his acquisitions.
Marseille winger Florin Thauvin has arrived for a reported £12 million, with Remy Cabella – who only flickered sporadically last season – moving in the opposite direction. Thauvin, an outstanding talent, seems like an upgrade and in the long term an attacking squadron of the Frenchman, Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic could present an intoxicating blend of pace, power and skill.
That may take some time to come to fruition, particularly if Mitrovic maintains his propensity to charge around like a mad bull, and for now there is a sense that Newcastle need to keep ticking along with the right number of positive results while McClaren effects his changes to the team’s shape and style.
It is a tough start for the Magpies, with Arsenal lying in wait next week, and the risk is that a run of defeats would send Newcastle down a familiar spiral of ill will when the manager clearly needs time.
Coming away from Old Trafford with a point or more, then, would provide a timely boost – but they will need a considerable improvement on last week, and will also need a depleted right side to contend with an in-form Depay. You probably wouldn’t bet on either just yet.
Thauvin could make his debut for Newcastle and, having already played twice for Marseille this season, may well be sharp enough to start. Daryl Janmaat is suspended after his red card against Swansea, which gives McClaren a major headache at right-back. Vurnon Anita could slot in, but the manager’s options are limited and Anita was given a torrid time by Jefferson Montero when he filled in for Janmaat last weekend.
Siem de Jong, who missed the Swansea match, may return and that would be particularly handy if Moussa Sissoko, who sustained a groin injury at the Liberty Stadium, does not recover in time to play.
For Manchester United, the obvious change would appear to be Bastian Schweinsteiger for Michael Carrick, whose early-season form has been underwhelming. The German is champing at the bit for his first start after replacing Carrick at half-time of the Brugges game. Marouane Fellaini serves the final match of his suspension and Phil Jones is not ready for a return yet, either.
Key battle: Memphis Depay vs Vurnon Anita
Even if McClaren finds a different solution for his right-hand side, this is the area of the pitch likely to attract the most focus and one that – if the gap vacated by Janmaat is not plugged – could see the match run away from the visitors quickly. Anita is not the sturdiest of replacements and the centre-back Chancel Mbemba could be shifted across to provide a more uncompromising opponent for Depay. As for the Dutchman, he will feel full of confidence regardless of Newcastle’s selection and, cutting inside with a view to shooting early wherever possible, will require disciplined tracking. Newcastle will already be dragged out of shape by Janmaat’s absence and Depay could be well placed to add further to any sense of chaos.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N’castle 0-1 United (PL, Mar 15)
- United 3-1 N’castle (PL, Dec 14)
- N’castle 0-4 United (PL, Apr 14)
- United 0-1 N’castle (PL, Dec 13)
- United 4-3 N’castle (PL, Dec 12)
“I don’t think you can judge us until 12 games in,” said McClaren and, precise as that measurement may seem, he has a point. It will need to be a carefully managed change at Newcastle and drawing such a line in the sand may, at least, keep any angry voices from the door for a month or two if things falter. He will be up against an old acquaintance in Van Gaal, whose AZ side he faced twice during his own spell in the Eredivisie with Twente. The managers swapped 3-0 wins back then; McClaren would probably settle for something similar this season.
Facts and figures
- Wayne Rooney has scored 12 goals and assisted 7 more in 20 Premier League appearances against Newcastle.
- The Magpies haven’t lost 8 successive league games away from home since a run of nine away losses in October 1977.
- Newcastle have only ever enjoyed 1 Premier League victory at Old Trafford in their 21 visits, with that 1-0 win coming in December 2013 (D7 L13).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Two works in progress, one of which looks decidedly more resilient than the other. 2-0 home win.