After the worst ten-game start in the Premier League era, Manchester United have steadied the ship and are now within striking distance of fourth-placed Aston Villa.
Inspired by Alejandro Garnacho’s breathtaking overhead kick, Erik ten Hag’s side thumped Everton 3-0 on Sunday, registering a third league win on the trot.
There’s no time for celebration as the Red Devils need all hands on deck to turn around their Champions League fortunes in a ‘make or break’ Group A showdown against Galatasaray on Wednesday.
Following a must-win trip to Istanbul, Man Utd face another mammoth task on the domestic front as they travel to St James’ Park to encounter Newcastle United next Saturday.
With Tottenham Hotspur falling apart following Ange Postecoglou’s dream start in the Premier League, the door has opened for Man Utd and Newcastle to strengthen their top-four chances.
Despite a substantial injury crisis, United top the Premier League form table, having won a league-high 15 points across the last six rounds, four more than their upcoming rivals.
A string of wins against bottom-half sides fired the Red Devils a point clear of Newcastle and only four adrift of the Champions League qualifying spots.
It’s imperative for United to show their teeth against direct European rivals as they’ve lost all three league clashes against current top-seven teams via multiple-goal margins.
They should also avoid letting their desire to settle the score after an embarrassing 3-0 League Cup defeat blind them.
Like at Old Trafford, the health bill on Tyneside is far from promising, with the Magpies lacking a dozen first-team stars through injuries, not to mention Sandro Tonali’s long-term suspension.
However, Man United cannot afford to take Eddie Howe’s injury-crippled side lightly, especially now that Alexander Isak is back in action after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The Swedish forward opened the scoring as Newcastle dismantled Chelsea 4-1 at the weekend to make it seven wins in their last eight competitive home outings.
St James’ Park is a fortress
Liverpool are the only Premier League side to have taken three points in Newcastle’s backyard this season, courtesy of a stunning late comeback with a man down back in August.
The Magpies have since won all six domestic fixtures on home turf, five of which without conceding, including a pair of 1-0 triumphs against Arsenal and Manchester City in the Premier League and FA Cup, respectively.
In both victories, Newcastle had 40% or less possession but restricted last season’s top-two sides to a combined three shots on target while inflicting damage on the counters.
On that basis, Ten Hag may have to reconsider insisting on lengthy, meaningless possession spells, a common characteristic of Man Utd’s play this season.
Building from the back, especially with Lisandro Martinez out injured, would put United at risk of falling into the same trap that led to Arsenal and Man City’s demise at St James’ Park.
Newcastle’s impressive record of only four home league goals conceded this season is second only to Liverpool’s two-goal tally at Anfield, highlighting the size of the task awaiting Man Utd.
Marcus Rashford must step up
Marcus Rashford broke his scoring drought from the spot against Everton, but his overall performance at Old Trafford flattered to deceive.
He showed flashes of brilliance in the latter stages, though he is still miles away from his formidable 2022/23 form.
Taking Sunday’s game on Merseyside out of the equation, Rashford’s rough patch has often left Bruno Fernandes on an island this term.
With Jadon Sancho frozen out of the squad and Antony turning out to be a con artist after tricking Man Utd into spending a fortune to sign him from Ajax, the Englishman is the only reliable option on the wing.
His stellar showings inspired United to a top-four finish last season, and Ten Hag needs the homegrown Old Trafford star to take his scoring boots out of the closet.
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