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Preview: Newcastle United vs. Manchester United - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Wednesday's Premier League clash between Newcastle United and Manchester United, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.

Newcastle United will host a rejuvenated Manchester United at St James' Park in their opening match of 2019 on Wednesday.

The Magpies hover just three points clear of the relegation zone at the turn of the year, whereas United are thriving under interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to breathe new life into their Champions League chase.


Rafael Benitez gestures during the Premier League game between Newcastle United and West Ham United on December 1, 2018© Reuters

It is almost exactly 10 years since Rafael Benitez embarked on his infamous "facts" rant against Manchester United while in charge of Liverpool, and he welcomes his old enemies again on Wednesday.

A lot has changed for both the manager and his opposition in the intervening decade, but he boasts an impressive record against the Red Devils having won each of his last four home games against United while in charge of English clubs.

That includes the corresponding fixture last season as he masterminded a 1-0 victory in February when the Magpies sat 16th in the table, and he faces a similar challenge this time around.

Newcastle now sit 15th, in exactly the same position and with exactly the same points tally as after 20 games of last term, but on that occasion they were only one point clear of the relegation zone, whereas this season they enjoy a three-point advantage.

It is by no means a comfortable cushion, but it is a cushion nonetheless and Newcastle should draw encouragement from the fact that they went on to finish 10th from this position in 2017-18.

The gap to those midtable teams is greater this season, though, and Newcastle have been dealt a difficult start to 2019 with four of the top six - Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur - in their opening five league games of the calendar year.

Benitez will no doubt be using such a run to try to convince Mike Ashley to invest during the January transfer window, particularly in attack where the Magpies have scored only 15 goals all season - basement club Huddersfield Town are the only team with fewer.

Huddersfield are also the only team to have picked up fewer points in front of their own fans this season, with Newcastle winning only two of their 10 outings at St James' Park and amassing seven points from the 30 offer.

Indeed, their tally of seven home defeats is already the third-highest they have ever suffered in a single Premier League campaign, after only 2012-13 (9) and 2013-14 (8).

There has been an improvement from Newcastle in general over recent months, winning four and losing three of their last 11 outings, but Benitez will know that they need to improve their goalscoring and home form significantly in 2019 if they are to steer clear of danger.

Recent Premier League form: DLWDLD

Man Utd

Interim Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer watches on during his side's Premier League clash with Cardiff City on December 22, 2018© Reuters

What a difference a fortnight makes.

Just two weeks ago Solskjaer was appointed as caretaker boss until the end of the season - a move which surprised many considering his limited managerial experience at the top level - and already United look like a completely different team.

Whether that is more down to Solskjaer's work or simply being unshackled by the exit of Jose Mourinho will be confirmed over time, but it certainly does not reflect well on the atmosphere the previous manager created at the club.

The players themselves cannot be absolved of blame when it comes to United's previous form; they are clearly capable of playing much better than they did under Mourinho, and their rapid improvement since suggests that they were not giving their all for the Portuguese boss.

However, so far it appears as though simply giving them the licence - and the confidence - to attack is all they needed to start living up to their big money and big reputations.

Paul Pogba is perhaps the most obvious example having scored four times in his last two games, but United as a team have now found the back of the net 12 times in their three games under Solskjaer - more than they managed in their final eight outings with Mourinho at the helm.

The run of three league wins on the bounce is their best of the season so far, and should they emerge victorious on Wednesday as well then Solskjaer will become only the second manager in United's illustrious history - after the legendary Sir Matt Busby - to have won his opening four games in charge.

Even at this early stage of his temporary reign, Solskjaer may have in mind the prospect of taking over on a permanent basis if he impresses enough, and he has certainly not done his chances any harm so far despite bigger names such as Mauricio Pochettino and Zinedine Zidane also being in the frame.

There are still elements to improve, of course; United have conceded in each of those three wins - and now each of their last seven league games - while they have kept only two clean sheets in the Premier League all season.

However, they have now clawed their way back to within three points of fifth-placed Arsenal, and while the top four remains eight points away, their recent revival will have at the very least raised hope that Champions League football next season is not a lost cause.

United also happen to have a formidable record of 67 wins from 99 Premier League games in January and only two defeats from their last 22 opening league matches of a calendar year, although one of those defeats did come at St James' Park in 2012.

Recent form: DWLWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WLLWWW

Team News

Marcus Rashford in action for Manchester United on August 19, 2018© Reuters

Marcus Rashford picked up a groin injury during United's 4-1 win over Bournemouth on Sunday and is a doubt for this match as a result.

Romelu Lukaku - who replaced him and scored in that match - is expected to come in from the start, while Alexis Sanchez could also be in contention following a hamstring injury.

Eric Bailly is suspended after picking up a red card against the Cherries, joining injured duo Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo on the sidelines.

The likes of Juan Mata, Fred and Diogo Dalot could be in line for starts should Solskjaer choose to rotate, although he is unlikely to tinker too much considering his side's fine form.

Newcastle, meanwhile, could be without Federico Fernandez after he limped off at half time of Saturday's 1-1 draw with Watford due to a hip injury.

Ciaran Clark is unlikely to recover from an ankle injury in time to replace the Argentine, while Florian Lejeune is expected to make his return in the FA Cup game at the weekend.

Jonjo Shelvey did return from a thigh problem at Vicarage Road, though, and could make his first start since November 2 in place of Isaac Hayden, with Ki Sung-yueng on international duty with South Korea.

Newcastle possible starting lineup:
Dubravka; Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie; Perez, Shelvey, Diame, Murphy; Rondon

Man Utd possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Young, Jones, Lindelof, Shaw; Matic, Herrera; Sanchez, Pogba, Martial; Lukaku

Head To Head

Manchester United have lost just one of their last eight league games against the Magpies, although that was on their most recent visit to St James' Park last February.

Newcastle could therefore win back-to-back home league games against the Red Devils for the first time since 1987.

The reverse fixture in October saw Newcastle race into a 2-0 lead inside 10 minutes at Old Trafford, only for United to fight back with three goals in the final 20 minutes and win 3-2 - a result which is understood to have temporarily saved Mourinho's job.

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We say: Newcastle 1-2 Man Utd

This could quite possibly prove to be the toughest test of Solskjaer's tenure so far, but Newcastle have not been at their best in front of their own fans this season and the visitors are rediscovering their swagger at the moment. We are going for a narrow away win.

Who will win Wednesday's Premier League clash between Newcastle and Man Utd?

Man Utd
Man Utd
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Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring against Fulham on December 8, 2018
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RHuddersfield TownHuddersfield3837282276-5416

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