When this season started, whatever you thought of Manchester United’s prospects, sitting level on points with Newcastle on Boxing Day seemed even beyond a worst case scenario.
Newcastle to their credit been better than pre-season predictions had forecast, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United have been more inconsistent than anybody imagined.
The two teams head into this Boxing Day fixture in eighth and ninth place. Newcastle beat us 1-0 in the St James Park match in early October, this is a chance for United to exact some revenge.
What has changed since the last Newcastle game?
In terms of availability, United are boosted by the returns of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba.
Martial has livened up United’s attack, even though the away defeat to Watford at the weekend was a big backwards step.
Pogba’s return gives United a little bit of a fresh dawn and this match is a good opportunity for him to make his mark.
The defeat at Newcastle sparked questions about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job. He has answered them, but a defeat here would make it just one point from a possible nine – and concerns could re-emerge. United need to make a statement with a win here.
Who should start?
Pogba has to be a starter, you would have to assume, the question is where?
We want to see him in attacking midfield, this is a good game to do that, and allow Fred and Scott McTominay to work in behind him.
It is possible Nemanja Matic starts one of the festive games, but at home to Newcastle is probably not the right match.
Axel Tuanzebe was not in the travelling squad to face Watford, after limping off against Colchester, and a place on the bench is probably the best he could hope for here.
David de Gea’s selection in goal is a legitimate talking point after his clanger against Watford, but we assume he gets the nod again back at Old Trafford.
At left-back it is time Brandon Williams was called into the starting line up again. United could use his attacking ability in this game, with Newcastle likely to set up deep behind the ball.
On the right, Dan James looked a little tired and low on ideas at Watford. It’s tempting to pick Mason Greenwood here for his goal threat and see United try to blow Newcastle away by scoring early.
James will be needed to put a shift in away at Burnley two days later and United should use him sensibly.
That would be three changes, Williams, Pogba and Greenwood in, with Shaw, Lingard and James out.
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