In the midst of one of the tightest races for Champions League qualifying, Manchester United can ill afford a loss or even a draw to Newcastle United when the two sides meet Wednesday at St. James’ Park.
Some have little faith in Louis van Gaal’s side to remain in fourth-place on the Premier League table and make a return to the European cup, especially with Southampton and Liverpool less than one victory back of the Red Devils. During multiple stretches of the season, Manchester United has lacked cohesion and consistency, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by experts and ardent supporters.
And even though they won behind a timely brace for forward Wayne Rooney, Manchester United’s form against nearly relegation-bound Sunderland on Sunday leaves much to be desired from Old Trafford. Supporters vehemently roared against Manchester United’s attack for back-passing to keeper David De Gea rather than blitzing a Sunderland defense that’s let up 39 goals this term.
It also doesn’t help Manchester United’s case that they belong with Van Gaal unsuccessful in his only two trips to Tyneside, one with Barcelona in 1997 and another with AZ Alkmaar 10 years later.
But the Dutchman also understands supporters’ frustrations.
“I agree with the fans that we don't have to use the goalkeeper so much," Van Gaal said. "I have seen moments when we could play with a higher tempo without interfering with the goalkeeper. Sometimes the players may not see another solution. But I have to support them. Also, a fan has to see that.
“Of course, to attack is more or less the English style of playing a match. But I think the supporters have also enjoyed Manchester United playing in a possession game so it is always a mix of playing both. I think we can still improve in not losing the ball unnecessarily.”
Given De Gea’s fine play this season, with 75 saves and eight clean sheets, it’s certainly understandable that United would rather rely on arguably their most important player. But if they have any hope of catching third-place Arsenal, who holds a slim one-point lead over them, United will need to unleash Rooney and fix whatever is wrong midfielder Angel di Maria while forward Robin van Persie nurses his ankle knock.
Van Gaal said Van Persie is the only player completely ruled out against Newcastle, and he last played on Feb. 21 in the 2-1 victory over Swansea. Like Rooney’s he’s tied for the squad-lead with 10 goals this term.
Midfielder Michael Carrick reportedly wont’ start but could play about 20 minutes, Van Gaal told reporters, even though he sat out the Sunderland win. But Van Gaal could add some more depth against Newcastle with defenders Phil Jones and Luke Shaw rested.
Magpies manager John Carver got his second victory in nine matches since taking over earlier this term, and he told reporters his 11th place side has more to play for than just avoiding relegation. "Since I've had this position I've never thought about going down - only up, Carver said. "There's no way in the world I'm going to allow this club to go flat and not continue to try and get as many points on the board as we can."
Newcastle’s been plagued by injury this season, with Remy Cabella, Robbie Elliot and Ronaldo Aarons all expected to resume training next week.
But the Magpies still have leading scorer Ayose Perez and his five goals, as well as four assists from playmaker and midfielder Jack Colback to contend with United’s slower attack.
Kickoff Time: 2:45 P.M. ET
TV Channel: NBC Sports via the Premier League Extra Time package
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra here
Prediction: Manchester United over Newcastle, 3-0