Newcastle United-Manchester United Preview
Manchester United have been imperious at home, and they will need to continue that form if they are to entertain any chance of catching their eternal rivals as they welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho's team have yet to concede at home in league play, ringing up 15 goals without reply while taking the maximum 15 points from those five matches. Yet their inability to keep up those winning ways on the road have left them a distant eight points behind Manchester City. United (7-2-2) are level with Tottenham Hotspur on 23 points but in second place on goal difference.
The bid for a sixth straight clean sheet at home will be tougher if Phil Jones cannot play. The central defender was forced off in England's match against Germany due to a thigh injury, and his status for this match is uncertain. It appears to be the same injury that forced Jones off in United's loss to Huddersfield Town last month, and that could force Mourinho to turn to Victor Lindelof once more in the spine of his defence.
"I don't think it is possible for a player with a problem to play in a friendly," a frustrated Mourinho told The Mirror. "Of course, Phil Jones had a problem. He was having a problem for three weeks, he's having problems that are stopping him to play for his club and then he plays for his club in extreme conditions because it's a big match against Chelsea.
"And then he goes to the national team and he comes home with an ongoing injury that everyone knows is an ongoing injury. ... I want to see next weekend if the players that were not going to the national team, I want to see if they are going to play. (Danny) Drinkwater? (Fabian) Delph? The only one that is not playing is Phil Jones."
While striker Romelu Lukaku has gone seven matches without a goal in all competitions for the Red Devils, Mourinho would surely have been happy to see his first-choice forward net for Belgium during the international break. Lukaku has a strong track record against Newcastle, totaling five goals and four assists in eight lifetime matches.
It remains to be seen if Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial will be alongside him for this match, as Mourinho has seemingly pitted the two youngsters against each other for playing time. Both impressed for their respective countries during the break, with Martial registering an assist in France's 2-2 draw with Germany. The pacy winger has been involved in a goal every 58 minutes for club and country this campaign.
"He is hard with all of us and he is hard with me, there is no question," Martial told Premier League Productions of Mourinho. "I know that it is for my benefit, but I also know that he really likes me as a person so there is no issue about the discipline being for all the wrong reasons.
"At the beginning, we didn't know each other too well but over time we have gotten to know each other better. He knows my strengths and he knows my weaknesses, such as they are, but the outcome is that we are learning to give everything in the right way."
While defender Marcos Rojo has begun training with United's reserves, he is not expected back until next month at the earliest. Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic continue to be long-term absences for the club.
Newcastle (4-2-5) probably found the international break to have come at an opportune time after back-to-back 1-0 defeats dropped them to 11th in the table. The Magpies have managed just one win in their last six (1-2-3) following three victories on the bounce, but midfielder Jonjo Shelvey thinks his team is ready to put those struggles behind them.
"I think people probably read too much into the last two results," Shelvey told Newcastle's official website. You're going to win games and lose games this season, it's just part and parcel of football. You could tell the disappointment in the changing room after the last two games - everyone's coming in dejected because they know we could have done better and got something.
"We could do something against Man United - that's how weird this league is," he added. "Anyone can beat anyone, so I think there's enough for us to survive in this league. That's our main goal, and then to build a platform and go on from there."
Newcastle centre back and talisman Jamaal Lascelles is batting a nagging ankle injury, and he has marshaled a defence that has yet to concede two goals in any league match this season. Magpies boss Rafa Benitez has not had to make a change to his backline over the last four matches.
There has been no war of words between the managers, who famously sniped at each other over the better part of last decade when Mourinho had his first go-round at Chelsea and Benitez was managing Liverpool. Benitez, in fact, has a chance to be the first manager to get a victory at Old Trafford with three different teams, having also done so with Liverpool and Chelsea.
But history is also a daunting opponent against Benitez in this match. Newcastle are an astoundedly awful 1-9-22 in their last 32 trips to Old Trafford, with the lone victory coming in 2013 courtesy a Yohan Cabaye goal. Additionally, Manchester United are looking to record a seventh straight home shutout in league play for the first time since 2010 and have a 32-match unbeaten run (22-10-0) in Premier League play entering this contest.
The teams played to a pair of draws in the 2015-16 season when Newcastle were last in the top flight, going scoreless at Old Trafford before a 3-3 deadlock at St James' Park.
Updated November 16, 2017