Manchester United head to St James’ Park looking to consolidate their top four position. Andrew Atherley previews the betting action…
Newcastle v Man Utd
Wednesday March 4, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 1
John Carver may be more popular than Alan Pardew with the fans, but as yet he has done little to rouse the St James’ Park faithful. With Newcastle as good as safe on 35 points already, this is a good opportunity to try for the sort of result that Pardew was able to produce from time to time – the last occasion being the 2-1 home win over Chelsea in early December.
In the main, however, Newcastle look like they are treading water – both on the field and off it, with the ongoing speculation about who might be appointed full-time coach in the summer. Saturday’s 1-0 home win over Aston Villa was only their second victory in the two months since Pardew’s departure.
Carver has not been helped by some key absences – combative midfielders Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote are suspended and injured respectively, with central defender Steven Taylor also on the injury list (as well as Siem De Jong and Paul Dummett).
Massadio Haidara went off with a knee injury against Villa but expects to resume at left-back (otherwise Ryan Taylor is likely to deputise). Ayoze Perez could return up front.
United’s only chance of silverware this season is the FA Cup but the race for the Champions League places is very tight and firstly they must focus on avoiding another slip-up away to a middle-ranking side – their last road trip brought a 2-1 defeat at Swansea.
The home FA Cup quarter-final with Arsenal is not until Monday night, which means Louis Van Gaal does not have to worry too much about squad rotation, although he has had difficulty settling on a preferred line-up or formation.
Robin Van Persie is likely still to be out with an ankle injury, but Michael Carrick looks close to a comeback after being on the bench for Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Sunderland and Luke Shaw could return at left-back after being rested.
Newcastle have won only two out of nine in all competitions since Pardew’s departure and both of those victories were against struggling, low-scoring sides (3-0 away to Hull and 1-0 at home to Aston Villa). It is probably no coincidence that they are the only clean sheets kept under Carver and they have an uninspiring record of W0 D3 L4 when conceding for the caretaker/interim boss.
That is despite the fixture list having been fairly kind to Carver. He has had to face only four teams from the top half of the Premier League in those nine games but Newcastle have conceded every time and taken only one point from a possible 12.
United may well be able to score, but the question all season has been whether they are able to turn that to their advantage. Van Gaal’s team have found the net in eight out of nine away to teams outside the elite top seven but they have won only one of those matches (with five draws and two defeats).
The fact that they have conceded in seven of those nine ‘easier’ away games is evidence of their vulnerability at the back, with home teams more likely to attack them and force mistakes.
That all adds up to a major weakness and suggests Van Gaal’s tactics aren’t right. It is interesting to note that United’s only win in that category was the 2-0 at QPR, when the away fans were chanting for “4-4-2” and “attack, attack, attack” in a goalless first half before Van Gaal did change formation and United improved markedly.
Given the later criticism of United’s tactics in their 1-1 at West Ham, it is difficult to be confident in Van Gaal’s away strategy and therefore in United at odds of 2.0621/20.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Given the concerns over both teams, Over 2.5 Goals looks the way to go at 2.1411/10.
There is support from United’s figures against the middle-ranking teams (from Swansea in eighth to Everton in 14th). These are the opponents you might expect United to have a good chance against, but who might be able to cause problems themselves.
United have played 10 games in that category home and away, scoring in every one but conceding in nine (the exception was a 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace). In four away games in that category both teams have scored every time, with two going over 2.5 goals (the other two were 1-1).
Over 2.5 Goals has occurred in six of the nine home games where Newcastle have conceded – and in six of the seven where both teams have scored. Given the defensive frailties, the stats are pointing that way.
The obvious alternative, at shorter odds, is Both Teams To Score at 1.9110/11.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 2.1411/10 (1pt)