Eric Cantona, David Ginola, Kevin Keegan’s ‘love it’ meltdown…. it is impossible to think of Newcastle United v Manchester United without recalling that glorious period in the mid-1990s when English teams still hadn’t got the hang of tactics and football enjoyed its last days of joyful innocence before money ruined everything.
Back then, these two sides were the best in the country but as the red side of Manchester travels to the Stadium Formerly Known as St James’ Park, both sides have endured a below-par start to this season that has left both managers critical of their players.
There was always the danger that Newcastle would suffer a hangover from their brilliant campaign last year, but there has been a bad case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ about the Toon this season.
Alan Pardew has been vocal about how his players have failed to reach the heights of last year and he isn’t wrong to make that assertion. The former Southampton boss bemoaned his team’s ‘lack of rhythm’ during their last Premier League outing at Reading, where Newcastle picked up a rather fortunate 2-2 draw that leaves them a disappointing tenth in the table.
Their only league win since luckily beating Tottenham 2-1 on the opening day of the season was an equally fortunate 1-0 victory over Norwich City and there is no question that the majority of Newcastle’s star performers from last season – Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse – have all, for one reason or another, failed to fire and the Toon have been lucky to amass nine points.
Pardew knows as much and if his rallying cry after the draw at the Madejski last weekend didn’t wake his players up (a midweek win over Bordeaux in the Europa League suggests it may have done) then the visit of Manchester United should certainly stir Newcastle’s players into upping their game.
Because if nothing else, United look like they are eminently beatable at the minute, even if they continue to pick up results. Like Newcastle, the Red Devils are lucky to have accrued as many points as they have, as their two league defeats away at Everton and at home to Tottenham last time out don’t even class as their worst league performances this season.
Sir Alex Ferguson was highly critical of his side after their dismal performance while beating ten-man Liverpool at Anfield two weeks ago and with a similarly lacklusture display in the 3-2 win at Southampton, United have looked very poor in their three league games on the road and it makes the 9/10 on an away win on Sunday too short to touch.
But then Newcastle don’t tempt much at 29/10 either (the draw is 5/2), so I am going to look elsewhere for a bet. You may have noticed one player was absent from the list of under-performing Toon stars I mentioned above and I think that in-form Demba Ba can give a shaky looking Manchester United rearguard more trouble.
The Toon aren’t playing with the same panache and gusto as when the two sides met on Tyneside last season – a game which Pardew’s men won 3-0 – but Ba has certainly started this season like he spent the first five months of the last one, scoring six goals in six Premier League games to win the majority of Newcastle’s points.
The Senegalese star netted the first goal in that 3-0 win in January and at 2/1 to score at any time, he looks a fine bet to notch once again. United’s defence has so far been about as convincing as John Terry in front of an FA panel, both with and without missing captain Nemanja Vidic.
Ferguson’s side have conceded nine league goals already – only the bottom seven sides have let in more – and with a combination of injuries, loss of form (somebody needs to put Patrice Evra out of his misery), no midfield enforcer and no set number one goalkeeper (an issue of Ferguson’s own making) I don’t see United improving in that area any time soon.
It leaves them vulnerable to a Newcastle team who have only failed to score once, and to Ba in particular, who is one of the streakiest goal-getters in the division. I wouldn’t put anybody off the 7/1 on him to score first, either – United have been trailing in six games already this season.
Recommended bet: Demba Ba to score at any time @ 2/1
Outside punt: Demba Ba to score first @ 7/1
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