Manchester United will be back in action after 16 days when they travel to St James’ Park to play Newcastle United.
A COVID outbreak within the Reds’ squad saw the Brentford and Brighton clashes postponed, meaning that Ralf Rangnick’s side had over two weeks before facing Eddie Howe’s Newcastle during a busy festive period.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the only goal in the win over Norwich earlier this month whilst the Magpies have suffered three straight defeats – two of which came during United’s enforced break as Liverpool and Manchester City proved too strong.
The reverse fixture marked the 36-year-old’s second debut for United. With Ronaldo-mania in full flow, the Portugal international popped up with a brace in the rout against the Toon Army.
But a lot has changed since then, including changes in the hot seat of both clubs and Newcastle also becoming the richest club in the world after being taken over by the Saudi-led consortium.
However, in terms of the league table, the hosts are three points off safety but find themselves level on points with the Canaries who are at the foot of the table.
United will be looking to assert their European credentials, knowing a win would see them keep the pressure on Arsenal, West Ham and Spurs.
Michael Owen – BetVictor
“This is one of my favourite fixtures and St James’ Park will be noisy for this one. Newcastle continue to struggle, mainly at the back,” he told BetVictor.
“I’ve said all season that I don’t worry about the goals in this side, Callum Wilson is a natural goal scorer, but they need to improve defensively. They’ve been in a difficult run of fixtures though, and things will get easier from now.
“I’m very interested to see how Man United perform. There’s been some signs of change from the new boss in terms of pressing and how he wants them to play. He’s had some time with the squad to get more of his ideas across and it will be fascinating to see how they play.
“With the home fans behind them, I can see Newcastle scoring. I don’t trust them at the back though and United will score a couple of their own.”
Prediction: United 2-1.
Mark Lawrenson – BBC Sport
“Eddie Howe has improved Newcastle, but not enough to get them many more points than they already had. Yes, he brought them their first win of the season but they are still losing a lot of games. They have left themselves a mammoth task to stay up,” he explained in his BBC Sport prediction.
“Lose this too and they will have earned 10 points from their first 19 games. If they are going to reach the usual 40-point mark that guarantees safety, they will need 30 points from their last 19 games which, if you look at the table now, is more-or-less top-six form.
“They might not need 40 points of course, but it won’t be far off it – and even reaching 35 points, which has been what teams have needed for survival in two of the past three seasons, will take a phenomenal effort from here.
“If they carry on picking up points at the same rate as they have been under Howe, they will end up on 24 points and will be relegated.”
He added: “I know they have got the January transfer window to improve the team but getting that right will be a challenge in itself, and they have put themselves under huge pressure to recruit properly. They can’t hang about either because they have got huge games against Watford and Leeds in the middle of that month.
“I do think this game will end in another defeat for the Magpies too. Yes, they were competitive at Anfield, and they also had a big decision go against them against Manchester City, but the facts are they were just not good enough defensively to get anything out of either game.
“I’m expecting a similar story here. Manchester United have had a couple of weeks off since their last game because of a Covid-19 outbreak, but their training ground reopened this week and Ralf Rangnick will have been working them hard. They will be going to St James’ Park to win.”
Prediction: United 2-0.
Paul Merson – SportsKeeda
He told Sports Keeda : “These big games are coming thick and fast for Newcastle, aren’t they? I thought they showed some good signs last week, but you can’t give away a goal like that so early against Manchester City.
“Newcastle haven’t been all that bad and managed to give a good account of themselves against Liverpool.
“Manchester United did show signs of vulnerability against Norwich last week. We’re going to see a loud Christmas crowd and a packed St. James’ Park this weekend – this will be a hard game for Manchester United.”
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 United.