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Preview: Manchester United vs. Newcastle United

Reds play host to the Magpies, with Mourinho’s future in the balance

Newcastle United v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Just one match remains before another international break. And, considering the current state of Manchester United, everyone could use a little time off.

The Reds host Newcastle on Saturday in a face-off between two of this season’s most underwhelming teams. Last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham pushed United down to 10th in the table, a far sight from the Champions League places. Newcastle are even worse off, already gearing up for a relegation battle in 18th. It’s been a pretty ugly start for both sides.

Even that Old Trafford mystique seems to be fading. Manchester United haven’t won at home since opening day against Leicester City. Maybe we should just hope for baby steps. Like, I don’t know, turning up on time for the game. That would be an improvement over Tuesday.

Against Valencia, United managed to stop the bleeding — but not much else. It was hardly a free-flowing performance from the Reds, although Marcus Rashford did rattle the crossbar late on. José Mourinho played arguably his strongest side, with Eric Bailly in defense and Alexis Sánchez restored on the left, but it didn’t make much difference. The entire team is totally out of sorts.

The dour 0-0 draw, while far better than the West Ham debacle, leaves the Reds in a precarious position in Group H. Assuming Valencia take maximum points off Young Boys, United cannot afford two losses to Juventus later this month.

No one knows better than José Mourinho that a win against Newcastle on Saturday is a must. “We have Newcastle before the league stops and, after that, Chelsea and Juventus in three days,” he said. “It’ll be very good for the team if we can beat Newcastle.”

That’s an understatement. If United don’t beat Newcastle this weekend, expect all hell to break loose.

Improvement must start up front, as the Reds have struggled mightily to break down opponents over the past few weeks. Consider the following:

  • Romelu Lukaku has more yellow cards (1) than goals (0) in his last five matches.
  • Paul Pogba has only scored one goal from open play this season. His teammates need more from him than just a cool head from the penalty spot.
  • The less said about the left side of attack, the better. Neither Alexis Sánchez nor Anthony Martial have done much of anything. One goal between them isn’t nearly enough.

Manchester United will never get out of this funk without their high-priced attackers putting the ball in the net.

There’s obviously no love lost between José Mourinho and Rafa Benitez, but the pair should find time to commiserate this weekend on the touchline. Both Manchester United and Newcastle were booed in their last home matches and an air of discontent surrounds both clubs. Once you’ve lost the home support, it’s awfully tough to get back in their good graces.

Mike Ashley is still the target of most Newcastle fans’ ire, but it’s telling that the boo birds have finally come for Benitez. Most fans still desperately hope that Rafa will re-up when his contract expires this summer, but it seems the honeymoon is over for some. And it’s hard to blame the supporters for getting a little restless — Newcastle remain winless after eight matches this season.

Getting Newcastle up to tenth last season — in their first season back in the Premier League — ranks as one of Benitez’s most underrated accomplishments. But years of underinvestment and neglect from the board are finally coming home to roost.

At least part of Newcastle’s poor start can be blamed on the fixture list. They’ve had the misfortune to already play Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal in the early going, making their place in the table a little easier to understand. Who knows where Manchester United would be if they had played a similarly brutal schedule?

Much like the Reds, Newcastle are toothless up front. Joselu barely scores and loanee Salomon Rondon can’t get on the pitch because of poor fitness. Rondon, a talented player who may still come good for the Toon, is doubtful for Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford. Newcastle need him back as soon as possible. Joselu works hard, but just can’t seem to find his scoring boots.

Hopefully he won’t find them this weekend.

This is a huge game for Manchester United. The knives are out for Mourinho and another loss may seal his demise. Or not. Some reports claim the Glazers are determined to stick with him until season’s end. You never know with Manchester United.

The only thing that’s certain is that it will get UGLY if United lose this one. International breaks are never fun, even less so when spent pointing fingers and sniping through the press. Sadly, it gets no easier on the other side where matches with Chelsea and Juventus await. Manchester United’s revival must start on Saturday or risk a wasted season.