Who’d have thought it, eh? A year of managerial upheaval, severe cost-cutting and selling what most people perceive to be your star assets is not normally a recipe for success, yet Newcastle United head to Old Trafford in late November sat proudly in fourth place in the Premier League.
In light of a great start and the club’s improved financial footing, what the fans now think of owner Mike Ashley is anyone’s guess (Sports Direct Arena, anyone?) but credit must certainly go to manager Alan Pardew, who has made a vagabond bunch into a cohesive, determined unit who are difficult to beat – last week’s 3-1 reverse at Manchester City was their first league defeat of the season.
The Magpies head to Manchester United next in what many no doubt see as a home banker, but I’m not sure the champions will find it as easy as many think and it is something to consider when thinking about potential goalscorers.
Newcastle, along with City and Liverpool, have the best defensive record in the league with just 11 goals conceded and only United themselves (three) have conceded fewer than Newcastle’s six away goals.
When you think three of those came at the Etihad last week, it is clear Newcastle have been watertight on their travels and that again will be their game plan at Old Trafford.
So while I wouldn’t expect a goal-fest, there is no way United won’t score – they have failed to score at home just once in all competitions since December 2009 – and I’ll be on the man who has a great record against Newcastle.
It hardly says much for my imagination to tip Wayne Rooney for the first goal (11/4) and to score anytime (13/20) but United just don’t look the same team without him and he can mark his return from injury with a goal against a team he loves to play against.
Rooney has scored eight career goals against the team who tried to buy him from Everton (Newcastle chairmen are always good for a laugh, aren’t they?) and with nine Premier League goals (plus two in the Champions League) this term already the Scouser is in great form.
The only consideration is if Sir Alex Ferguson continues with the bizarre experiment of playing Rooney in midfield. If that’s the case the odds, especially for him to score anytime, would be far too short.
In that case, look at Nani as an alternative. I really like the Portugal winger and I always think he has a goal in him. He actually has three for United as well as five for Portugal this season and at 5/1 and 6/5 (first/anytime) is worth a play.
As for Newcastle, tight as they have been at the back, it has often been to the detriment of their attacking prowess. Pardew’s men have scored just eight away goals in six games, which you would normally suggest would not be good enough form going to Old Trafford, but which United defence will turn up on Saturday?
Ferguson switched emphasis onto his defence after their hilarious 6-1 defeat to their great city rivals, keeping five clean sheets on the bounce. But against Benfica on Tuesday, defensive solidity was out of the window again, as the Portuguese side scored two shambolic goals to earn a draw in the Champions League.
It will give Newcastle encouragement that they can score and if they do, I fancy Demba Ba to be the man at 15/2 (first goal). Ba has been in great goalscoring nick since his move to England with West Ham in January, scoring 15 Premier League goals. Eight of those have been this season, and the 2/1 he scores anytime has got to be tempting if United are going to defend like they did on Tuesday.
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