Buoyed by emphatic and profoundly vivifying victories over Swansea City and Sheffield United, Manchester United travel to Newcastle on Tuesday in the hope of recording consecutive Premier League triumphs for the first time since November. Looking at the league table at the moment is an utterly depressing thing, though we've done it so you don't have to. Louis van Gaal's side head into the round down in fifth place, three points adrift of the Champions League spots and three clear of a fairly terrible Liverpool team. Happy days.
Still, it could be worse, we could be Newcastle fans. Mike Ashley has done his level best to run the Magpies into the ground over the last few years, and he's currently succeeding. Three straight defeats under former United assistant and Wally With A Brolly Schteeve McClaren have left them in the Premier League relegation zone, two points adrift of safety. There's no doubt that they're in real trouble. Anything other than a victory should get van Gaal sacked on the spot, but it almost certainly won't.
Long-termers Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo are all still out. Bastian Schweinsteiger will also miss the trip after picking up an injury against Sheffield United. We'll have to wait to see whether Phil Jones will be fit enough to return from his short layoff, as well as whether Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young have managed to emerge from the "red zone" fighting fit.
The good news is Newcastle too have a string of injury problems: striker Papiss Cissé and goalkeeper Tim Krul are major absentees, the misery of which compounded by problems hampering a smattering of squad players. They're waiting on the fitness of centre-back Fabricio Coloccini; while midfielders Jack Colback, Vurton Anita and Rolando Aarons are all doubts.
Newcastle United are undoubtedly one of the Premier League's most profoundly bizarre teams. Their squad is ostensibly much better than their position in the table would suggest, and throughout the season so far they've managed to pick up a few reasonably good results: an emphatic win over Norwich, narrow ones over Liverpool and Spurs and draws against United and Chelsea have been the highlights. But they've also been hammered by Crystal Palace and Sunderland, and have picked up just one point in their last four. It's a quite remarkable inconsistency, but one United should be wary of.
Nevertheless, there's no doubting Newcastle have got problems at both ends of the pitch. They've conceded the third-most goals in the Premier League this season, and scored the third-fewest. Despite attacking talent in the form of skilful wingers Ayoze Pérez and Georginio Wijnaldum, their lack of a proven goalscorer has proven unable to disguise their defensive weakness. Between them, their out-and-out strikers have scored just five goals, while their defence has shipped 35 over the first half of the campaign. They appear to be a team with talent but absolutely no mental fortitude. It doesn't look good.
Van Gaal's tactics are usually not just painfully boring, but just as ineffectual. However, against Newcastle, it's difficult to see how even United could cock things up. The Magpies appear to lack the concentration and cohesiveness to withstand the pressure of possession, and their struggles to put the ball into the back of the net despite creating the chances mean David de Gea will be anticipating an easy evening. That all said, it'll now be fascinating to see how United do somehow contrive to lose the game.
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Rob Elliot; Paul Dummett, Fabricio Coloccini, Chancel Mbemba, Daryl Janmaat; Georginio Wijnaldum, Jack Colback, Cheick Tioté, Moussa Sissoko; Ayoze Pérez; Aleksandar Mitrović.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Ashley Young, Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian; Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick; Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata; Wayne Rooney.