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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Jose Mourinho can lift the gloom hanging over Old Trafford

Man United should take care of struggling Newcastle

Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial of Manchester United
1 of 1

Premier League
BT Sport 1, 5.30pm Saturday

Manchester United's 0-0 Champions League draw with Valencia did little to disperse the storm clouds gathering over Old Trafford but they can clear a little of the gloom by digging out an ugly Premier League win over struggling Newcastle.

It says a lot about the state of Jose Mourinho's side that the miserable 0-0 which could have sent fans at the Theatre of Dreams to sleep might even have been classified as a mild improvement.

United played without confidence or flair but they were reasonably well organised at the back and there was no lack of commitment.

Neither of those traits were seen at the London Stadium last Saturday as a disjointed, insipid United slumped to a 3-1 loss to West Ham.

Following the defeat Mourinho suggested some of his players were trying more than others, but he has to take a share of the blame for returning to the three-man defensive system which had failed spectacularly in the 3-0 defeat at home to Tottenham.

Against Spurs he bizarrely selected Ander Herrera among the back three. In the West Ham game it was Scott McTominay's turn to be the fish out of water.

Highlighting those two strange selections is important because United haven't fared as badly when utilising more conventional tactics and personnel.

Mourinho has gone with a back four in five Premier League games, collecting ten points from a possible 15, and two Champions League matches, taking four from six.

Averaging two points per game wouldn't be enough to get United anywhere near title contention but it would put them in the mix for a top-four finish.

Qualifying for the Champions League would mean getting above two of Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal, but United are trailing those clubs by seven, five and five points.

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Losing more ground this weekend would put them in a desperate position and raise the possibility of a managerial change over the international break.

Either way, Mourinho's long-term prospects are bleak but his short-term aim is to beat Newcastle by any means.

Newcastle are also in a situation where results matter far more than performances.

The match against United is their fifth in eight games against big-six opponents but the pressure is building with the Magpies three points adrift of safety.

Only basement boys Huddersfield have scored fewer goals and a change of fortune at Old Trafford seems unlikely.

Since winning promotion in 2016-17, Newcastle have lost seven games in succession away to big-six teams and it is hard to see where they are going to hurt Mourinho's men.

Last season Newcastle finished tenth despite scoring just 39 goals in 38 league games.

The need for attacking reinforcements was obvious but it is arguable that they have downgraded by doing a loan swap with West Brom, sending Dwight Gayle to the Midlands, where he has been named Sky Bet Championship player of the month for September, and bringing in Salomon Rondon.

The option of playing Rondon against United has been removed by the Venezuelan's ongoing thigh injury but he has failed to score in four league appearances.

Newcastle's lack of a goal threat puts huge pressure on their defence.

Given the fixture list they have done fairly well to limit the goals- against column to ten.

But Rafa Benitez's side are likely to concede at some point and that may be enough to put the home side on course for victory.

Manchester United & under 3.5 goals
1pt 11-10 Coral, Ladbrokes, Sky Bet

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Team news
Manchester United
Marcos Rojo, Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera are still sidelined but Ashley Young could shake off a minor knock.

Federico Fernandez and Paul Dummett (both hamstring) have returned to training but Salomon Rondon (thigh) is out. DeAndre Yedlin faces a late fitness test. 

Key stat
None of Newcastle's last 17 Premier League games have featured four or more goals.

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The miserable 0-0 draw against Valencia could have sent fans at the Theatre of Dreams to sleep
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