The FourFourTwo Preview: Newcastle vs Man United
A mid-table meeting of two apparently disunited Uniteds.
What a difference a year makes. In May 2013, Newcastle boss Alan Pardew delivered his 'I Have A Dream' speech, talking of wanting to emulate Liverpool and be challenging the Reds hard this season. He said they were the blueprint for what his team could become, with sensible investment, team spirit and the type of "winning mentality" Pardew brings to the table.
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 Everton (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Fulham 0-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- Hull 1-4 Newcastle (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 1-1 Bayern (CL)
- Man Utd 4-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-3 Man City (Prem)
- West Ham 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-0 Olympiakos (CL)
We can laugh about it now, as the Reds canter off towards the title, but Pardew had just witnessed Liverpool finish a modest seventh – something a team of Newcastle's size should really be aspiring to. Fast forward to now, almost a year on, and Pardew appears to have fallen short of his target. Mathematically, Newcastle could still finish as high as seventh – they sit eight points behind the team currently occupying that spot (Manchester United) with six games and 18 points still to play for. But they won't come close.
Anyone unfortunate enough to witness their witless 'performance' at Southampton last Saturday would be hard pushed to predict them picking up another point this season. In their last 10 games, the Magpies have won three, drawn one and lost six. When they’ve lost, they've usually lost heavily: 3-0, 3-0, 4-0, 3-0 and 4-0. Very few of Newcastle’s stars share Pardew’s dream of seventh. With safety secured for another season, they appear to have become distracted by thoughts of the World Cup, a nice beach somewhere hot and/or a new team with loftier ambitions. Almost every member of the first team has been linked with a move away – the most recent speculation linking Mathieu Debuchy with a move to Newcastle's new parent club, PSG.
Based on the 4-0 defeat at St Mary's, a mass cull would be the best bet for all involved. In what had been excitingly billed as the "race for eighth", Newcastle were abject from start to finish, with the sole exception of Rob Elliot. But for the athleticism of their overworked second-choice goalkeeper, the Saints could have easily reached double figures. “We certainly looked like we needed some freshening up," said master of the understatement Pardew. “We have to have a big response.”
Certain sections are calling for a return to 4-4-2, advocating a return to the twin pairing of Loic Remy and Papiss Cisse who between them have 17 goals in all competitions. Deprived of Remy's services through injury for the last four games, Newcastle have scored just once. His return would at least give the Toon a threat going forward, although that assumes the uninterested rabble behind him can provide him with the odd pass.
Over in Lancashire, what a difference a single week makes. This time last week, the harbingers of doom were predicting the end was nigh for Manchester United and David Moyes. Coming off the back of derby destruction, the visit of Aston Villa appeared to offer nothing more than brief respite before Bayern Munich arrived to drive another nail into the coffin. But, as Gianluca Vialli once famously opined, football is an old, funny game.
United duly beat Villa 4-1, then took a moral victory in the 1-1 draw against the European champions, producing a performance of unexpected vim and vigor, suggesting there is life in them yet. Of course, they may still lose in the second leg in Bavaria next week, and kiss goodbye to Champions League football for 18 months at least, but United's run-in now sees them face Newcastle, Norwich, Sunderland, Hull and Southampton (plus an interesting visit to Everton). They'll enter the final stretch feeling in far finer fettle, particularly with Rooney, Mata and Kagawa almost accidentally brought together and beginning to click.
A run of results from here on in will allow Moyes to paper over the cracks and head for the summer feeling far more positive than he did only seven short days ago.
Pardew is praying Remy will be fit enough to return after missing the last four with an ankle injury. Tim Krul remains out, meaning Elliot retains his place between the posts, while Pardew may inject a little passion by bringing in Geordie youngster Adam Armstrong.
For the visitors, Alexander Buttner may give way to Patrice Evra, who was suspended against Bayern. Fit-again pair Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling could replace the creaking Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, while a more offensive approach is likely to see Shinji Kagawa preferred over Marouane Fellaini, if Moyes has any sense.
Players to watch: Coloccini and Tiote
Remy's goals will be key should he return, but Newcastle will need to actually get hold of the ball and retain it if they are to provide him with any service. To that end, the importance of captain Coloccini and Ivorian Tiote should not be underestimated. Against a rampant Southampton last Saturday, they at least offered some resistance. The pair topped Newcastle's stats on passes (Tiote 50/54, Coloccini 39/46), take-ons (Tiote 3/4), ball recoveries (both 8) and interceptions (Coloccini 5).
Against Manchester United’s likely triple-threat of Rooney, Mata and Kagawa, three players who’ll look to dominate possession and create, the pair will again need to provide some kind of resistance. Largely because no one else will.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Man Utd 0-1 N'castle (PL, Dec 13)
- Man Utd 4-3 N'castle (PL, Dec 12)
- N'castle 0-3 Man Utd (PL, Oct 12)
- Man Utd 2-1 N'castle (LC, Sep 12)
- N'castle 3-0 Man Utd (PL, Jan 12)
Having served his three-match stadium ban for being clinically unhinged, Pardew was free to return to the dressing room for the game at Southampton. After witnessing the 3-0 defeat at home to Everton, he predicted his return would galvanise the troops. "If you take a personality out of the dressing room," he said, talking about himself, "it's going to have an effect. (So) I'm looking forward to having some impact in there." They lost 4-0 in one of the very worst performances of Pardew's reign. Recognising he has little control over a collection of uninterested and demotivated footballers who'd rather be elsewhere, few are blaming Pardew for Newcastle's current malaise. If it keeps up much longer, however, their attention may turn.
Having survived the darkest week of his United career – derby destruction followed by the ceremonial fly-by last Saturday, Moyes appears to have ridden the storm out. For now, at least.
Facts and figures
- Newcastle have lost to nil in 5 of their last 7 home matches
- Man United have the best away record in the Premier League this season and haven’t conceded in their last 4 away matches
- 7 of Man United’s last 9 trips to middle-third teams have produced at least 3 goals
Newcastle have scored first in 3 of their last 4 meetings with Man United
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Even if Pardew gets a positive reaction from his team, the visitors should be too strong: 0-2.