After putting one foot into the Champions League group stage in midweek, Manchester United will attempt to continue their 100 percent start to the Premier League season at home to Newcastle United on Saturday. Manchester United followed up their pair of 1-0 league wins with a 3-1 victory over Club Brugge at Old Trafford on Tuesday to put themselves in a strong position heading into the return leg of their Champions League playoff.
It was a victory highlighted by two fine individual goals from Memphis Depay, as the summer signing from PSV Eindhoven provided a thrilling early signal of his potential. After two performances that had shown up the rough edges still present his game, the Dutch 21-year-old excited the Old Trafford crowd in a way arguably not seen since the exit of the last man to do Manchester United’s famed No. 7 shirt justice -- Cristiano Ronaldo. Memphis also provided an assist for Marouane Fellaini to head in an injury-time goal which should make the Red Devils' task a much more straightforward one next week.
Yet surrounding Depay, there remains concern about whether Manchester United have the required quality to make a real impression in the Champions League and mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title. Wayne Rooney failed to score or look like scoring for a third game running in what has been a sluggish start to the season for the club captain. Already there has been significant scrutiny over the England international’s performances, although Rooney has played down his struggles.
“I've had one bad game this season and everyone's all over it,” he said, according to BBC Sport. “I've had that throughout my career but hopefully at the weekend I can get off the mark.
“It's early on in the season -- we're just three games in. I've experienced this criticism before and the goals will come, I know that. I understand I have to be the one who's going to lead that line for us and try and find the goals for us.”
In an attempt to get more goals, Louis van Gaal has also tinkered with his lineup by bringing Adnan Januzaj out of the cold and into the No. 10 role in the past two games. It is no secret that van Gaal has been looking to bolster his options, yet it has now been confirmed that the club will not be signing Pedro. The former Barcelona winger had for a long time looked set to move to Old Trafford, only for Chelsea to swoop in and get a deal done. The official message from Manchester United is that it was they who decided to back out of a deal, but the situation is far from ideal and leaves them scrambling for alternatives in the final days of the transfer window.
Their opponents on Saturday have been more successful in getting a deal over the line this week. Continuing a busy summer in the transfer market after several seasons of underinvestment, Newcastle spent £13 million on talented, if sometimes frustrating and controversial, young French winger Florian Thauvin from Marseille. The signing took Newcastle’s net spend this summer to £47.7 million, the second highest in the Premier League.
It is a sure sign at least that widely unpopular owner Mike Ashley has been sufficiently scarred by last season’s frightful flirt with relegation to get out a checkbook that for too long had been gathering dust. The signings provide much to encourage for the future, too, with all of this summer’s arrivals being 24 or younger. And -- like Thauvin -- Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chanecel Mebemba, all have obvious and sizable potential. However, they also have much to prove in the Premier League. And the same could be said for their new manager.
Appointed after failing to lead Derby County into the Championship playoffs, Steve McClaren is taking charge of a Premier League team for the first time in a decade. In the intervening time he has had some spectacular lows in charge of England and Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, as well as the high of leading FC Twente to the Dutch Eredivisie title.
He is in danger, though, of enduring a worryingly tough start to life at Newcastle. A 2-2 home draw with Southampton on the opening day was no disaster, but a subsequent 2-0 defeat at Swansea leaves Newcastle on just a solitary point and facing an unenviable run of fixtures from which to try and extract the points needed to move up the table. After visiting Old Trafford on Saturday, Newcastle’s next five Premier League outings will include matches with the other members of last season’s top four -- Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Manchester United: Marouane Fellaini will serve the final match of his domestic suspension, while Phil Jones is again expected to be missing as he battles mild thrombosis. Sergio Romero is set to continue in goal amid the continued uncertainty surrounding David de Gea’s future.
Newcastle United: Florian Thauvin is eligible to make his debut and Steve McClaren’s options will be further boosted by the return from a shin injury of Siem de Jong. However, Moussa Sissoko remains a doubt, while Steven Taylor, Paul Dummett, Emmaniel Riviere and Sylvain Marveaux are definitely ruled out through injury. Daryl Janmaat is suspended following his sending off against Swansea.
Prediction: By far the biggest positive for Manchester United so far this season has been the organization and solidity in the team, led impressively by the vastly improved Chris Smalling. Maintaining that discipline on Saturday will be important in snuffing out the threat from a Newcastle side that has the potential to pose a threat on the counter attack. At the back, though, McClaren’s side still require plenty of work and, while still not free flowing, a Manchester United team which has improved with each game should be able to take advantage.
Predicted score: Manchester United 2-0 Newcastle United