Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are now all within three points of each-other in the race for Champions League football as well as Tottenham and Southampton still sniffing around. The top four race is painfully close and, despite the next eleven games promising much excitement for all interested in the Premier League, every Manchester United fan would much prefer an easy stroll to 3rd spot as opposed to the impending fisticuffs that will invariably lead to painful moments.
If Manchester United were able to replicate their impressive home form on the road they would be miles ahead of any other top four contenders, fighting for top spot in the league instead. However, Louis van Gaal’s team only have 16 points from a possible 39 away from home as opposed to the 34 points taken from the possible 42 at Old Trafford. This travel sickness now means that a top four place is achievable but far from certain, especially with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool beginning to look like imposing outfits.
It’s important to remember that a place amongst Europe’s elite next year is still in Manchester United’s hands – a vast difference to last year – meaning that upcoming trips to the likes of Anfield and Stamford Bridge will be treated with a determination and confidence that ought to serve Louis van Gaal and co well.
Manchester United ultimately frustrated everyone in the process of defeating Sunderland at Old Trafford last Saturday in a performance that remained true to the traditions of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United; lots of sideways movement, little conviction, awful corners, a lucky goal, an unspectacular victory. It was such a typical Louis van Gaal performance that didn’t deserve the criticism it received. Surely Manchester United fans know the drill by now?
Nevertheless, a similar tale to the one against Sunderland on Manchester United’s visit to Newcastle this Wednesday would be very welcome as the season approaches the stages where performances mean nothing and points mean everything.
After Newcastle’s home win over Aston Villa, their first home win of 2015, they can now be assured of Premier League status under next season. The explosive encounters between these two sides from the nineties are long gone with Newcastle now trapped in the tedious predicament of being ruled out of both relegation and European football – with Manchester United needing to treat this game like a ‘cup final’ – cliché, I know. But the point is that Manchester United could come out of this game having won purely on the basis of having the greater impetus.
Newcastle will be impeded by the lack of several important players; Tiote, Dummett, Cabella and Haidara all won’t feature for the Magpies. Jack Colback returns from suspension.
Louis van Gaal has confirmed that Michael Carrick still doesn’t have the required match fitness but the England midfielder could be on the bench. Robin van Persie is out whilst Phil Jones and Luke Shaw are doubts.
Newcastle is always a difficult place to play but John Carver’s team aren’t a shade of the side that eviscerated Manchester United 3-0 back in 2012 with the likes of Demba Ba and Johan Cabaye in meticulous form. Should Manchester United pick up from where they left off with their strong finish at Old Trafford on the weekend then a confidence boosting away victory looks likely.
Prediction: Newcastle United 0-2 Manchester United