Manchester United vs. Newcastle: Issues and Decisions That Will Shape EPL Game
Some of the issues and decisions that will shape the game from Manchester United's perspective will be very familiar to those who have been following the Red Devils recently, but some are more specific to this tie, and the Christmas period in general.
Let's take a look at five issues and crucial decisions facing Louis van Gaal ahead of this one...
Speaking at his press conference on Tuesday, Van Gaal said (h/t ManUtd.com):
For a few players it [this period] is fun because they are recovering quickly, but you also have players who are not recovering so quickly, so I have to rotate. My problem is I have a lot of injured players. That is the problem with these matches in the coming weeks.
Van Gaal's options for rotation are limited. Against Aston Villa, United's bench consisted of Rafael, Angel Di Maria, Adnan Januzaj, Anders Lindegaard, Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett and James Wilson.
There are neither natural central midfielders in that selection nor left-sided full-back cover (other than perhaps Blackett). Van Gaal does, of course, have choices up front and it will be interesting to see how much Wilson and Januzaj feature during the festive programme.
It may not be that the Dutchman chooses what he would consider his "best" XI for this game, with two tough away games following so closely on its heels.
Once again, the question of whether Van Gaal deploys a back three remains uncertain. It may depend on the fitness of Rafael, as being able to deploy at least one natural full-back could make Van Gaal more comfortable with using a centre-back partnership.
His hand may also be tipped by the absence of fit midfielders, and Darren Fletcher's poor performance against Villa, which saw him substituted at half-time. Michael Carrick may not be able to play in a back three, as he could be needed elsewhere.
Speaking of which...
Wayne Rooney and Fletcher made an unorthodox, and relatively ineffective, midfield partnership against Villa. Even if Van Gaal does stick with a back three, presumably he will use Carrick in midfield, and given the lack of other choices, it would be no surprise to see him line up alongside Rooney.
United were considerably more effective at the beginning of the second half against Villa with Rooney and Carrick in midfield. Di Maria and Juan Mata will also be in contention for a place there, but are likely to be used in more advanced positions, if recent history is any guide.
Bouncing Back (From a Draw)
Following a run of six wins, the draw with Villa came as a bitter disappointment to United. It has been a little while since they have had to deal with any adversity in their results, and how the team responds will be key ahead of this game.
Of course, 19 points from a possible 21 in their past seven games is a fantastic return from United, but with just a five-point gap back to seventh place, it is crucial for them to maintain their momentum. Given their superb home form this season, victory has once again become expected at Old Trafford.
The added pressure will be a fine test of character for Van Gaal's men.
How Will Van Gaal's Christmas Spirit Effect the Team?
Van Gaal's management has seen a feel-good factor return to Old Trafford in terms of results. He will be hoping his act of kindness to his players and their families in giving them the day off for Christmas will not backfire.
Van Gaal told MUTV (h/t ManUtd.com):
I have given them free time and Christmas day with the family. We shall come together the next day here at our Aon Training Complex. Then we will have all of the meetings like we have done all season.
I believe in a total human being so the environment is also important. I think they are more pleased to be at home with their wives and children. I hope they shall give everything to beat the opponent then.
This heartwarming gesture values the players as people, as "total human beings," and it will be interesting to see what impact—if any—it has on the team's performance the next day.