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Starting XI: Newcastle United vs. Manchester United

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Even MUFC should be able to put this lot to the sword

Leicester City v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Manchester United limp into another international break with a golden chance to end months of away-day futility. If the Reds cannot beat this Newcastle side on Sunday — and, preferably, in emphatic fashion — it will be a very unpleasant fortnight for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and company. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the match.

(1) There’s no sugarcoating Manchester United’s start to the season. It’s bad. Really bad. The Reds are off to their worst start of the Premier League era.

(2) But whatever discontent surrounds Manchester United pales in comparison to the dumpster fire raging at Newcastle. From Mike Ashley and his never-ending sale all the way down to Steve Bruce and a squad nearing open rebellion, the Tyneside club is a mess. If something big doesn’t happen soon — and rumors continue to swirl of a Peter Kenyon-led takeover — this could be a slow, sad, season-long march to the Championship.

(3) Before the AZ Alkmaar match, Solskjaer updated the fitness of two injured Reds: “We’ve had Anthony [Martial] out and I don’t think he’ll make [Newcastle]. Luke [Shaw] is training, but I don’t know if he’ll make it.” With Thursday’s match on artificial turf, the boss also left Paul Pogba back in Manchester after his ankle flared up again in the Arsenal draw. And, considering the state of AZ’s plastic pitch, that looks a very wise decision.

(4) Jesse Lingard, who replaced Mason Greenwood in the 77th minute, could not escape The Hague unscathed. He appeared to suffer a hamstring injury in the dying seconds of Thursday’s 0-0 draw. Solskjaer provided a quick update afterwards:

I think he felt his hamstring a little bit. I don’t think it’s too bad. Probably not Newcastle, but he could be ready for Liverpool.

(5) The best news for Manchester United? They go up against Steve Bruce this weekend. The longtime Red has never beaten his former club as a manager.

(6) Still, it’s hard not to feel bad for Brucie. Mike Ashley handed him the unenviable task of replacing Tyneside cult hero Rafa Benitez — and the early returns don’t look too promising. This isn’t all his fault, but Newcastle fans are in no mood for excuses. With only one win so far this season — away to Tottenham Hotspur, oddly enough — they’re already mired in the relegation zone with few signs of hope on the horizon.

(7) Seriously, Newcastle are imploding. Last weekend’s 5-0 capitulation to Leicester City seemed a breaking point for the beleaguered manager, as Bruce responded to the lopsided defeat by canceling Monday’s training session to allow his players a chance to clear their heads. This firestorm could pay dividends for Manchester United — score an early goal on Sunday and an angry St. James’ Park crowd might turn against the home side.

(8) Newcastle are not without talent:

  • Dwight Gayle returned to training this week, although it’s still questionable whether he will be held out until after the international break.
  • 21-year-old Sean Longstaff, a rumored Manchester United target over the summer, has cemented himself in central midfield.
  • Miguel Almiron, the £20 million signing from Major League Soccer, is still adjusting to a new position on the right wing. He hasn’t looked as dangerous on that side, but still provides a creative threat.

(9) Newcastle broke its transfer record with the £40 million summer signing of Joelinton from Hoffenheim. He lacks a clinical edge in front of goal and often prefers to drop deep to receive the ball — two traits that keep him from stuffing the scoresheet with gaudy goal totals. One goal through seven Premier League matches is hardly the return that Newcastle hoped for from their record signing. And, with the club scoreless in 263 minutes, fans are getting restless.

(10) Injuries forced Newcastle to shift away from a five-man backline at Leicester and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was not a fan:

The coach decided to play four at the back and we needed to adapt. We were trying to do our best, but I have to say it didn’t work. We are used to playing five at the back, which fits us probably more the last couple of times we played there and were successful.

But I understand that he is also trying to explain some kind of style that he wants, so we need to try to do it. If not, we cannot change the results. We are trying to do what the gaffer is expecting of us. Unfortunately, it didn’t work this time.

(11) Newcastle’s plan for Sunday seems rather obvious. Bunker in, hit long balls up to Joelinton, and pray for either a defensive breakdown or a fortuitous flick-on. While that strategy shouldn’t trouble a team of Manchester United’s stature, that’s exactly the tactical profile that has vexed Solskjaer’s Reds this season. The Crystal Palace loss, in particular, comes to mind.