The statistics suggest that Premier League leaders Man Utd should be confident of securing three points from their penultimate home match of 2012 when Newcastle visit Old Trafford on Boxing Day (3pm GMT).
United are four points clear of local rivals City at the Premier League’s summit after a 1-1 draw away to Swansea on Sunday that allowed their neighbours to close the gap by two points.
It was a good performance by Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, the team functioning well as a unit but lacking a killer touch in the final third to finish some excellent build-up play, much of which revolved around the accurate forward passing of Michael Carrick.
Ashley Young, Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney all got themselves into good positions but some uncharacteristically lax control saw a number of moves break down in and around the area. Similarly negligent finishing resulted in the chances they did create going to waste.
Ferguson will not be unduly concerned, however, as it is highly unlikely Van Persie and Rooney will again synchronously perform as badly as on Sunday. The pair have scored 19 goals already this season, with one or the other scoring in each of the four matches prior to the draw against Swansea.
Goals have generally flowed from elsewhere in the team if those two have not found the back of the net, with United boasting 15 different scorers so far this season. That is the highest number of any club in the division. Between them they have scored 44 goals, eight more than any other Premier League side.
United have been less impressive defensively, keeping just three clean sheets all season. Even with Nemanja Vidic restored to its core following an extended injury layoff, United’s defence struggled to deal with the pace and determination of Swansea’s Spanish forward Michu, who scored once and was a constant thorn in their side.
Newcastle gave United’s defence similar problems when the two sides met at St James’s Park last season, emerging as 3-0 victors with Demba Ba among the scorers. However, this season Newcastle are finding it difficult to match the heights of last year’s top six finish and are unlikely to cause as much concern.
Ba has scored 11 times to date, but Alan Pardew’s side appear set up to take advantage of his strengths to the detriment of the rest of the side, especially his strike partner Papiss Demba Cisse.
Cisse scored 13 goals in 13 appearances at the back end of last season following his January move from Freiburg, excelling in the centre of a three-man attack also featuring Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa. This season, playing alongside Ba in a 4-4-2, he has been far less effective, scoring just twice in 16 appearances.
The pair are too alike and do not provide sufficient variation to cause major problems to opposition defences. Their aerial prowess has also conditioned Newcastle’s play, with 23.54% of their passes being long balls or crosses, a percentage only bettered by Stoke, West Ham and Reading – three notoriously direct teams.
This, combined with the absence through injury of Yohan Cabaye, the club’s primary creative force in midfield, has seen Newcastle’s goal output fall dramatically in comparison to last season. Pardew’s men scored an average of 1.47 goals per match in that campaign, compared to just 1.11 per match this season.
This lack of goals has contributed to the club’s league position of 14th, just five points above the drop zone. A late Shola Ameobi winner was enough to secure a 1-0 victory over Queen’s Park Rangers this past weekend, but the three points were not allied to a particularly convincing performance.
Newcastle are rumoured to be considering two or three new signings in January, with Ba potentially being ushered towards the exit door to make space for a forward better suited to partnering Cisse or acting as a wide forward in a 4-3-3.
Until then, however, they will continue to float around in the lower reaches of the table, with a difficult trip to Arsenal following their Boxing Day clash with United.
Man Utd v Newcastle Betting Tips
The tie with Swansea was United’s first draw of the Premier League season and only the fourth time they have dropped points. They are unbeaten in six and have lost just one of their last 12 league matches.
Newcastle are yet to win away from home this season and have lost each of their last three matches away from Tyneside. Lacking in confidence or cohesion, it seems highly improbable they will secure a first away win of the season at Old Trafford.
- United are clear favourites and should end the match as comfortable winners. We therefore suggest backing Manchester United -1.5 on an Asian Handicap @ best odds of 5/7 at Pinnacle.
- Six of United’s eight home matches this season have ended with four or more goals, as have a couple of Newcastle’s away matches. We expect to see a similarly high number of goals on Boxing Day, so back over 3.5 goals @ 7/6 with Pinnacle.