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Starting XI: Newcastle United vs. Manchester United

Cut to ribbons by Spurs, Manchester United seek redemption on Tyneside

Newcastle United Training Session
This bastard
Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Saturday’s match:

(1) The less said about that 6-1 drubbing by Tottenham Hotspur, the better. It did prove one thing, though — nothing motivates Ed Woodward like abject humiliation. With his summer work cruelly exposed by Spurs, Woodward sprang into action on deadline day. Better late than never, I guess. While Jadon Sancho (and Ousmane Dembele) remain tantalizingly out of reach, Manchester United agreed deals with left-back Alex Telles, forward Edinson Cavani, and two teenage lottery tickets in Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo.

(2) As Woodward giveth, he also taketh away. Just one day after the Manchester United backline ran up the white flag against Tottenham’s relentless attack, the club shipped out center back Chris Smalling in a £13.6 million deal with AS Roma. Smalling may or may not be the missing piece to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s defensive puzzle, but this move leaves United’s already-beleaguered backline another man short. Happy trails, Mike.

(3) Cavani, in particular, arrived not a moment too soon, as Anthony Martial begins serving his three-match suspension this weekend. Unfortunately, the Uruguayan frontman will miss the trip to Newcastle due to Covid-19 quarantine. Since Cavani has been without a club since leaving Paris Saint-Germain this summer, he must complete a 14-day quarantine period before linking up with his new teammates.

(4) International breaks are always good for a curveball or two. Last week, Eric Bailly sent shockwaves through Manchester when he left the Ivory Coast vs. Belgium match with an apparent hamstring injury. It seemed just the latest chapter in Bailly’s snake-bit career. Happily, though, the 26-year-old soon took to Instagram to clear the air that his “injury” was just muscle fatigue. Meanwhile, over in France, Paul Pogba thrust himself back into the media spotlight by reopening the ol’ Real Madrid can of worms. Pogba’s flirtatious comments, aimed at one Zinedine Zidane, did him no favors with the Old Trafford faithful.

(5) With Mike Ashley still trying — and failing — to flog off the club on a new buyer, Newcastle spent the summer shopping in the discount bins of the newly-relegated. Steve Bruce signed attackers Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser from Bournemouth, left back Jamal Lewis from Norwich, and midfield man Jeff Hendrick on a free via Burnley. Net spend: £34 million.

(6) And, despite the doom and gloom that always seems to engulf the club, Bruce’s summer signings have worked a treat. Newcastle are off to their best Premier League start since 2012 and sit in the top half of the table after winning 3-1 over hapless Burnley last time out. In that one, Allan Saint-Maximin (who just signed a new six-year deal) opened the scoring, before Wilson finished off the Clarets with a second-half brace.

(7) The Callum Wilson signing continues to pay dividends in unexpected ways. The former Bournemouth man has already scored four goals for his new club, but also seems to be bringing out the best in Joelinton. With Wilson operating up front, Newcastle’s record £40 million signing — who, let’s be honest, looked like a huge bust — has been freed up to embrace his inner No. 10. That’s a far better situation for a player who’s always looked more comfortable creating chances than scoring goals.

(8) When Martin Dubravka hurt his ankle in August, Newcastle understandably feared the worst. After all, the Slovakia goalkeeper’s quick reflexes and shot-stopping ability won the club many points over the past few seasons. But, happily for Newcastle, deputy Karl Darlow hasn’t missed a beat in between the sticks. The 29-year-old Darlow wowed everyone with 13 saves against Tottenham Hotspur last month — and, in part due to that performance, leads the Premier League in saves.

(9) Steve Bruce pulls back the curtain on his tactical shakeup:

We've gone from a back five to a back four. I’ve tried to play one off the front and I’ve done that in six of the seven games this season to try and go away from the back five, defending deep, and playing on the counterattack. I grant you that we haven’t been as stylish as we would have liked. We were stylish against Morecambe. We were stylish against West Ham. That is what we’re trying to achieve. That’s what we’re trying to put into place.

(10) A closer look at Newcastle...

  • Despite Brucie’s pleas for stylish football, his Magpies rank second in the Premier League in long balls (71) per game and near the bottom in short passes (304).
  • Not surprisingly, Newcastle struggle to hold possession (44.7%) and sit rock bottom in shots on goal (2) per game.
  • Newcastle lead the Premier League in yellow cards (11), with new signing Jamal Lewis leading the way with three. Aggressive.
  • It’s not all bad, though — Newcastle win 53.1% of their aerial duels. Manchester United would do well to bypass route one and keep the ball on the ground this weekend.

(11) Manchester United need a result at St. James’ Park because the next fortnight will be no walk in the park. With Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea up next — and RB Leipzig and Arsenal a little further over the horizon — United cannot afford a slip-up on Tyneside. With all due respect to Newcastle, this weekend is the calm before the storm.