How Manchester United Will Line Up Against Newcastle

Greg Johnson@gregianjohnsonSpecial to Bleacher ReportDecember 5, 2013

How Manchester United Will Line Up Against Newcastle

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    It feels as though it's back to square one for Manchester United and David Moyes following Everton's 1-0 win at Old Trafford in the week.

    Watching Roberto Martinez's team, so full of confidence and ambition in the latter stages of the game, overcome a wasteful home side was made all the more painful by the sense that, had Sir Alex Ferguson been in charge, it would probably have been United that popped up with 85th-minute winner.

    Now, with cries of "Moyes Out"—or #MoyesOut for those paid-up members of the Twitterati—ringing out from the club's more vocal and reactionary fans, the new boss again appears to be somewhat besieged and under pressure to justify his credentials to lead the team post-Fergie.

    Even more frustratingly, United have so far flittered from producing impressively fluid performances in the supposedly tougher Champions League to turning out turgid and predictable slop in the Premier League.

    After blowing Bayer Leverkusen apart in a 4-2 win at home in September, United were then dismantled by Manchester City in their next game, losing 4-1 in a dismal derby-day defeat at the Etihad.

    An even more convincing 5-0 win away in Leverkusen in late November has so far been followed by an underwhelming 2-2 draw away to Tottenham and this latest, rather callow loss at home to Everton.

    Thankfully, due to a packed fixture list, the team have the opportunity to immediately right their wrongs with another home game against Alan Pardew's highly inconsistent Newcastle United.

    Having sneaked into fifth place before their mid-week 3-0 loss to Swansea City, it's fair to say that the Magpies are a difficult team to quantify this year and offer United the opportunity to grab a fairly respectable scalp to put their defeat to Moyes' former club behind them.

    Yet the manager must improve his performance in games by showing some faith and trust in his team selections rather than losing patience—and nerve—by reacting and changing things too often during matches.

    With a need for some stability and continuity in Moyes' tactics, both before and during games, here is how United could line up against Newcastle this Saturday, December 7.

Team News

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    Having picked up his fifth booking of the season for another act of petulance, Wayne Rooney will now serve a one-match suspension, ruling him out of United's home clash with Newcastle.

    Robin van Persie is still unlikely to feature, too, with the Dutchman struggling with toe and knee problems.

    In midfield, Michael Carrick remains injured, although Phil Jones looks set to return to action after missing the defeat against Everton due to his own suspension for collecting five yellow cards this season.

    Newcastle are waiting on Hatem Ben Arfa, who missed the game against Swansea due to a virus, and Papiss Cisse, who has been sidelined of late due to a foot injury.

The Threats Posed by Newcastle

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    Pardew looks to have found a semi-successful formula for the Magpies of late, with a greater focus on teamwork over a reliance on individual brilliance.

    Shola Ameobi and Loic Remy, keeping in line with the re-emergence of striker partnerships in the Premier League this season, have become Newcastle's go-to big-man, little-man combination up top in a fairly conventional 4-4-2 formation.

    With Ben Arfa having been largely relegated to the bench due to injury, a refusal to track back and tensions with his manager, the flanks have instead featured the less spectacular but more hard-working pair of Moussa Sissoko on the right and Yoan Gouffran on the left.

    In midfield, Yohan Cabaye has rediscovered his form as the Geordie's midfield general, with Cheick Tiote still used as the team's main enforcer, although Vurnon Anita is putting pressure on the rather more limited Ivorian.

    The make up of the Newcastle midfield could well decide how their Old Trafford encounter plays out, yet Pardew may be tempted to deploy all three players in a packed midfield with United's own middle pairing looking vulnerable when outnumbered.

    Newcastle's soft underbelly, both in terms of individual quality and form, is their defence, which is why the home fans are likely to be so perturbed by the absence of both Rooney and van Persie for their upcoming fixture.

    As evidenced by their changeable form so far this year, however, it's difficult to know what sort of Newcastle team will arrive at Old Trafford and in what state.

    Therefore, Moyes must focus on making his own statements on the pitch rather than attempting to counteract Pardew's plans.


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    Goalkeeper: David De Gea

    The Spaniard, who has been nominated for inclusion in UEFA's Team of the Year 2013, as per Nathan Thomas of the club's official website, will continue on in goal against Newcastle as United's undisputed No. 1 between the sticks.


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    Central defence: Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans

    Even though he was bullied by Romelu Lukaku at times, Vidic was one of United's better performers against Everton, while his partner for that game, Chris Smalling, looked less assured than usual against Everton's hardworking attackers.

    Newcastle's visit will see United's defenders once again faced with a powerhouse in attack, with Ameobi in good form as the Magpie's target man. Yet with the pacy and agile Remy playing off the Nigerian international, Vidic will need help to track his runs and cover the ground.

    That's where Evans comes in.

    The Northern Irishman's absence against Everton was telling, with his greater experience and confidence when it comes to positioning both himself and his peers sorely missed.

    Vidic can no longer do it all himself while he drags along a teammate such as Smalling, who is yet to become self-sufficient due to his ongoing defensive apprentice.

    With his pace failing, the Serbian has enough to worry about when it comes to ensuring his reading of the game is quick enough to make up for his aged legs.

    That's why Evans needs to become United's mainstay at the back, as he did last year, offering a balanced mix of awareness, mobility and passing ability to complement rather than complicate Vidic's role.


    Full-backs: Patrice Evra, Rafael

    A penny for the thoughts of Rafael, as he watched Bryan Oviedo ghost in on the overlap to score Everton's winner in mid-week.

    Having been subbed off in favour of Nani—and replaced by Antonio Valencia, who dropped deep from the wing to supposedly cover his position—the Brazilian had to look on as the team's right-back position was completely bypassed.

    Looking back after that game, Moyes will hopefully have seen the error of his ways and allow Rafael to play for a full 90 minutes against Newcastle. After all, his game no longer fits the caricature of the reckless and headless chicken, better at going after forwards than defending his flank.

    Based on the evidence of last season, Rafael is quickly becoming one of the most complete full-backs in the league, with a tenacity and work rate to match his obvious skills as a wing-back raider.

    On the left, Evra fulfills a similar role, and it's hard to see Moyes switching the Frenchman out for the largely unconvincing alternatives of Fabio or Alexander Buttner for a game he has to win after drawing two and losing one in his last three games.


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    Central midfield: Phil Jones, Marouane Fellaini

    While the media narrative of Fellaini's travails at Old Trafford remains fixated on his price tag and inability to be either Roy Keane or Paul Scholes, the Belgian has shown himself to be well-equipped when handed a more conservative and defensive role deep in midfield.

    But Moyes usually begins to panic, loses faith in his creative players and decides to push Fellaini higher up the field with a more expansive remit to act as a box-to-box midfielder, a role which has unwittingly exposed his technical weaknesses rather than brought out his strengths.

    Like the rest of the team, the Belgian is in desperate need of some other new midfield recruits to allow him to play the role of destroyer with a limited and clear agenda to break up play, hassle opponents and pose an awkward, physical obstacle for opposing playmakers between the lines.

    With Giggs needing a rest after his tiring outing against Everton, Jones' return could not have come at a better time, with the versatile Englishman set to be the energetic, box-to-box combatant to partner Fellaini's more static, low-lying role as the team's midfield sentinel.

    Jones may not be the tidiest player in the world, but thankfully, he is still at an age where his enthusiasm and sprightly physicality can overcome his technical deficiencies, although his touch, passing and shooting abilities are certainly improving.

    This pairing may well lack poise and grace, but with a clutch of skillful yet lithe attacking midfielders and forwards set to be thrown onto the field ahead of them, the hardworking grit and defensive appetites of Fellaini and Jones will be vital for United to prosper against the likes of Cabaye and Tiote.


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    Attacking midfield: Antonio Valencia, Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj

    Perhaps it's a hopeful plea into the footballing ether rather than an accurate prediction that Moyes will persist with Kagawa, given how quickly he has lost patience with the playmaker in recent games, shifting him wide or subbing him off.

    Yet while it's hardly a universally accepted opinion, the Japanese star has shown signs that can be the team's main man in the hole if only he's given the opportunity to complete games.

    In the first half against Everton, he was by no means brilliant, but more often than not, he got into the right places and even produced a couple of decent chances, scuffed and butchered by an out-of-sorts Danny Welbeck and Rooney.

    He is yet to record a goal or assist this year, yet judging by his influence on the team's general fluidity in attack in the Champions League, that needn't be the issue his detractors and stats addicts would like you to believe.

    Like Luka Modric's spell at Spurs before he was accepted as a valid Premier League star, having a player able to find the pass that creates the opportunity for another player to provide an assist is not to be sniffed at. Kagawa can be that player for United.

    On the flanks, Valencia looks set to continue on the right while Januzaj—whose ability to track back and win the ball has been overlooked due to his more obvious impact in attack—is deserving of more game time on the left.

    Both will have to work hard to push back Newcastle's wide players and limit their space to run onto the ball and find their teammates down the flanks and through the channels.


    Striker: Javier Hernandez

    With Rooney banned for Newcastle's visit and van Persie unlikely to start, Chicharito looks set to be the man tasked with breaking the deadlock.

    The Mexican has struggled for opportunities under Moyes, who will be be hoping the poacher will have used his wait to fuel his hunger to score goals and make a big impression.

    Alternatively, Welbeck could start, yet his inability to poor performance in front of goal of late suggests he wouldn't be a first-choice option to lead the line in the absence of United's two star strikers.

How Manchester United Will Line Up Against Newcastle

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    Putting it all together, here's how United could line up against Newcastle in their Premier League match Saturday, December 7.


    GK: De Gea

    DF: Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra

    CM: Jones, Fellaini

    AM: Valencia, Kagawa, Januzaj

    ST: Hernandez

    The suggestion made in this article's opening slide—that a Ferguson-managed team would have won against Everton—comes from the belief that the Scot would have stuck by his starting line-up rather than disrupt their functional if not perfect rhythm by attempting to micro-manage a victory.

    He would have made do with the situation he found himself in, as was so often the case when his teams lacked the required chemistry or spark to win at a canter under his stewardship.

    Moyes is no longer managing a club that needs to operate on a policy of damage limitation, and he must become comfortable with delegating responsibility to his players. After all, they are the ones with the proven track record of winning titles at present, not him.

    Shinji Kagawa's and Marouane Fellaini's performance levels noticeably suffered after a promising opening 30 minutes against the Toffees, with their manager's overly keen desire to tweak his tactics shifting them out of position and compromising their effectiveness.

    Against Newcastle, who look ripe for the taking should they come up against a team whose minds are focused on the job at hand, Moyes needs to show that he can do more than just react to whims of his opposite number in the technical area of the opposing dugout.

    So far, his United have looked like a team without an identity—besides an obsession with spamming crosses from the flanks. That lack of vision makes it all too easy for Moyes to fiddle with his orders to the point of impotency.

    This weekend, the fans and the players need to see a manager who has at least attempted to plot a course for the club beyond an indecisive and unclear mess of nerves and knee-jerking.

    Hopefully, the defeat to his former team was be a wake-up call for Moyes to rise above his fire-fighting tendencies rather than sink further into self-doubt and reactive and regressive short-termism on the touchline.

    Sadly, it may be some time before he is able to turn that corner with United. With no van Persie or Rooney to magic up a result, a stodgy no-score draw may be on the cards.

    Prediction: Manchester United 0-0 Newcastle United