Friday, 9 February 2018

Match preview: Newcastle v United

United have no fresh injury concerns for the trip to Tyneside as we return to St James Park for the first time since a thrilling 3-3 draw 23 months ago. Then, as now, Newcastle were embroiled in an intruiging battle to avoid relegation and are one of nine sides in genuine danger of the drop. To continue their yo-yo existence of recent years, the Magpies went down that season but went straight back up at the first attempt as champions under Jose's old adversary Rafael Benitez. The two men have locked horns in big games aplenty down the years and had a storied rivalry when in charge at Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.

It's been an emotional week off the pitch for everyone connected with the club, as we remembered those we lost in Munich 60 years ago on Tuesday. Respects were paid last time out against another promoted side, Huddersfield, before the commerorations continued on the 6 February anniversary itself. But focus now switches to on the field matters and the visit to Newcastle. Paul Pogba is set to return to the starting line up having come on against the Terriers but Marouane Fellaini is sidelined following his knee surgery. The Frenchman took centre stage the last time the two sides met at Old Trafford back in November as he marked his comeback from injury with a masterful man of the match performance.
Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are both back in training but this match is expected to come too soon for either to feature. Daley Blind is also unavailable. For the hosts, Joselu could return while transfer window signings, Slovak goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and Leicester loanee Islam Slimani could make their debuts. 
Another loan addition, Kenedy, who the Magpies acquired from Chelsea, has brought an added threat to their attacking weaponry, with the young winger having claimed two assists against Burnley and Crystal Palace.
Benitez's side made an impressive start to life back in the top flight and looked set to challenge for a top half finish after they were fifth in October. Since then, they have not won at home and their form has plateaud dramatically. The Toon have kept only two clean sheets in their last 17 matches, winless in five, and sit 16th in the table - a point above the bottom three - with 12 games to go. 

Jose said: "Newcastle had a very good transfer window, they got three players in, players that I know well and they can really improve their team. Rafael Benitez knows how to get points, they are at home, so I think it will be a difficult game. 
"If you ask me if I think Newcastle are going to be in the Championship next season, I say no way. They are strong,  Mr Benitez has them hard to beat, I like the Geordies, the fans are good and enthusiastic and I like the stadium but I have lost and drawn a few times here. I hope the result on Sunday is different this time."

This is the first of three successive away matches in three different competitions, as we travel to Huddersfield in the FA Cup next Saturday before the first leg of our last 16 Champions League tie in Sevilla. 

Form guide: Newcastle W D L L D D United W W W W L W 
Match odds: Newcastle 19/4 Draw 14/5 United 4/6  
Referee: Craig Pawson

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