Hey, you know what’s really just not a great thing? The international break. This is true always, but it’s especially true when your national team has nothing significant to play for and your club team enters the break with a bad-tasting loss that you want to put behind you.
Thankfully, our two weeks in the wilderness are almost over, as Newcastle will head to Old Trafford on Saturday to face off against a Manchester United team currently sitting second in the Premier League. In preparation, we caught up with Brent over at The Busby Babe to talk about the season so far and what we can expect this weekend.
Coming Home Newcastle: Manchester United were my personal pick to win the Premier League at the start of the season, and they currently sit second behind a City side that looks to be playing with FIFA cheat codes. Has the current campaign lived up to the preseason hopes of United supporters?
The Busby Babe: All things considered, it's been a good start to the season. Our form has cooled off considerably following a shit hot start, but Pogba's absence changes the whole dynamic of the team. No Pogba and no Fellaini (seriously, he started the season in impressive form) means that the midfield is less dynamic, which has affected the form of the creative players (if anyone has seen Mkhitaryan, please let us know), which has in turn affected Lukaku's goal-scoring because of a lack of consistent service. It would be nice to be top of the league as well as being in a strong position in the cups, but City have been consistently better since after the first international break. Still, it's a long season, and as long as we don't lose any more ground in the next six weeks, I expect us to be challenging for the league title at the business end of the season.
CHN: It's been a while since our two clubs met, thanks to Newcastle's relegation in 2016. Aside from the global megastars, are there any new faces for United since then that supporters should look out for?
tBB: Neither is new, but the rotating attacking threat of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford (one will start, the other will likely replace him after 70 or so minutes) has been giving defenders fits this season. I'm also backing that Lukaku fella to break his goal-scoring drought this weekend.
CHN: Almost a year and a half in, how has the Mourinho project gone for Manchester United?
tBB: There are signs of progress. Last season was reasonably successful. Sixth place in the league was shameful, but the two cups (and Champions League qualification) softened the blow. Now that Mourinho has mostly gotten the players he wanted, and had over a year to implement his ideas, most of us are expecting nothing less than a serious league title challenge, as well as another cup win. It's been weirdly joyless lately (check out our article this week on why that is) with Mourinho picking unnecessary fights and serving up dull football. That said, some key injury returns (PLEASE GOD PAUL COME BACK), and a run of victories will change the mood around the club quickly.
CHN: As we enter the holiday season, football clubs around the world are putting together their wish lists for the January window. Are there any juicy rumors for United or, barring those, spots in the lineup that you hope are addressed?
tBB: The juiciest rumor we've heard is about Valencia midfielder Carlos Soler. Mourinho apparently wants to address the lack of depth in midfield, and Soler is a good player I'm told. Valencia are near the top of La Liga though, and a deal like that is more likely to happen in the summer. More likely is that we recall the midfielder we actually already employ who is on loan at Valencia: Andreas Pereira. Pereira is an exciting attacking talent and can provide cover in a few positions. Other than that, the left-back spot is a glaring weakness, and I would hope that the club are at least keeping an eye out for potential reinforcements in January. You wouldn't happen to have a good one laying around by chance, would you?
CHN: Manchester United has a number of high-profile players with expiring contracts at the end of the term, including Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. Do you expect new contracts to be negotiated, or will we be seeing these players in new shirts as early as January?
tBB: There have been rumors lately about Besiktas sniffing around Fellaini, but I would be surprised to see any of those players be allowed to leave for nothing in the summer. The manager rates Fellaini highly, so I expect him to sign a new contract. Mata and Herrera have both become reliable options for Mourinho as well, so I expect both will have their extension clauses activated at the very least, if not signing new deals. Luke Shaw is probably the only out of contract player that Mourinho - and many supporters - wouldn't mind seeing the back of. Talented player, but his conditioning is a disgrace.
CHN: Lastly, a prediction for the match:
tBB: I'm not expecting an attacking spectacle after the disruption of the international break, but I think we'll get the job done. 2-0 to the Reds.