Manchester United finished 2011 deflated following Blackburn’s shock 3-2 victory at Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve, but with Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs all failing to take full advantage, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side head to Newcastle in an unexpectedly upbeat mood.
Newcastle, meanwhile, will no doubt be reflecting on their lack of progress since these two sides last met five weeks ago. Back then, the Toon Army were in the top four and had suffered just the one defeat.
Four points from six games later, Alan Pardew’s men have slid to seventh and, while he would probably have taken this mid-season position in August, he knows that they must get back to winning ways fast.
Demba Ba has been instrumental in securing this position for Newcastle. With 14 goals in 14 appearances, and 21 in 30 appearances in total in the Premier League in 2011, he will be approaching the new year with an abundance of confidence.
Newcastle’s reliance on the Senegalese star, however, continues to worry fans at St James’ Park. The Tyneside club recently played 520 minutes of football with only Ba scoring for the team and with this likely to be his last league game before he travels to take part in the African Cup of Nations these worries are likely to come to the fore.
Rooney’s goals have tended to come in bursts this season – perhaps a reflection of his reliance on confidence for scoring – but with four goals in four games he is very much on the up again.
Ba, on the other hand, will want to continue to remind the home side what he is capable of. Manchester United are certainly aware of his impact, having dropped two points in November from a penalty converted by the striker.
Odds of 9/5 for him to score at any point in the game are therefore extremely attractive. Punters should not expect him to grab the first goal though, having only achieved it in three games so far this season.
Wayne Rooney looks a better bet for securing this honour instead. The Scouser has netted eight times against Newcastle in his career and, with 13 goals in his past 15 starts, he should be expected to increase this total.
And as if defeat to Blackburn hadn’t been enough of a reminder, Rooney will be looking to prove to Sir Alex that he is a vital aspect of the United team. His goals have tended to come in bursts this season – perhaps a reflection of his reliance on confidence for scoring – but with four goals in four games he is very much on the up again.
He will be looking to exploit a weak Newcastle defence that has conceded 13 times in the six games since these two teams last met, so back him to score two or more at 19/4.
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Punters who believe Rooney will open the scoring can back him to do just that at 4/1, while he is rated at 11/10 to score at any time.
There is, of course, no guarantee that the Red Devils will have the last laugh. Newcastle have plenty of talent in their squad to cause an upset and may indeed rely on an impact player to achieve this.
Hatem Ben Arfa has provided this role very well in recent games, having come off the bench to provide Ba with an assist against West Brom and similarly scoring Newcastle’s first against Bolton eight minutes after coming on.
He may well grab the final goal in this game and with odds of 10/1 to do so, punters should seriously consider backing him this way.
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