Newcastle United have an excellent chance to leapfrog Manchester United in the race for The Champions League spots and regain the third place in The Premier League that was The Magpies' own until January and form fell away as the ultimately fruitless Carabao Cup run to the final at Wembley took precedence where they were beaten by the Red Devils who they have a big chance of exacting early revenge against on Sunday.
In March, the emergence of a fully fit and firing Alexander Isak leading the line for The Magpies has revitalised The Magpies and three goals from the Swede - one against Wolves and two against Nottingham Forest before the international break - led to back-to-back wins and has regained the Mags' momentum for the final run-in of the season.
Isak has been nominated for both The Premier League Player of the Month award and The Premier League Goal of the Month award for March for that first superb strike against Nottingham Forest, a volleyed finish from a difficult angle & position that compatriot Zlatan Ibrahimovich would have been proud of :
Thankfully for Newcastle fans who saw Isak get injured on his first international break following signing for The Magpies after making a promising start for the club, Isak returned fit and injury-free having played a big part in two games - a 3-0 loss to Belgium and a 5-0 win over Azerbaijan in which he assisted one goal & had another disallowed:
Newcastle will need the exciting striker whose style has been compared to Thierry Herny's on top form on Sunday to capitalize on Manchester United's defensive frailties that saw The Red Devils ship SEVEN goals at Anfield in a 7-0 slaughter vs Liverpool:
That was a big embarrassment and reality check for Erik Ten Haag's men who thought they had put such results as the 4-0 drubbing by Brentford at the start of the season behind them but it may have been indicative of a wider issue in that The Red Devils are in a false position in The Premier League due to some big dubious decisions in their favour at Old Trafford that has given them points & position not justified by their talent:
Those three big home wins enjoyed by Man United at Old Trafford highlighted above against rivals Liverpool, Arsenal & Man City all involved dodgy official decisions:
- Gabriel Martinelli's opening goal for Arsenal against Man United wrongly ruled out for a supposed foul on Christian Eriksen by Martin Odegaard:
Greater Manchester-born and bred VAR Lee Mason asked Greater Manchester-born and bred referee Paul Tierney to review the start of the move & he agreed to disallow it but in The Premier League's mid-season review during The World Cup, the disallowed goal was named one of six VAR overturn errors and several weeks later, Lee Mason left the PGMOL in ignominious circumstances after another "mistake" cost Arsenal again.
Arsenal would avenge that game-changing decision & beat Man U 3-2 at The Emirates.
2. Marcus Rashford's Dubious Goal Against Liverpool That Looked Offside...
was apparently awarded to the attacker who received the "benefit of the doubt" within "the margin of error" that gives VAR officials a subjective call to give or disallow goals and the Manchester United man has been awarded several such close calls this season:
A week later and Newcastle's new signing Alexander Isak faced an identical situation at Anfield but VAR Andy Madley didn't give the Sweden striker the "benefit of the doubt" within "the margin of error" and this superb second goal of his was chalked off:
Without the benefit of the doubt in the return game when Casemiro's header from a free-kick was disallowed, Liverpool smashed Man United comprehensively 7-0.
3. Most Controversially, Bruno Fernandes' Wrongly-Given Goal Vs Man City stood in the Manchester derby despite Marcus Rashford being blatantly offside and interfering:
Note that linesman Darren Cann above doesn't raise his flag but when Phil Foden strayed offside for Man City in the first half, he was waving his flag like a madman.
The goal was allowed to stand - another subjective call made between referee Stuart Atwell and Cann meaning that VAR Michael Oliver couldn't intervene.
A week later and PGMOL chief Howard Webb - who had a reputation when a Premier League referee was being pro-Man United awarding 18% of his total penalty kicks in a long career as a ref to the Red Devils (read my blog: Code Red - The Return of Howard Webb As PL Ref Chief & Fergie + Mike Dean on VAR Is Bad News For English Football) - explained in an interview at Stamford Bridge on SKY Sports that after the reaction 'from the game' from now on Fernandes' goal would be disallowed for offside:
Yet the goal stood and Man U were back in a match they didn't deserve to be and ended up winning it and a undeserved 3 points unlike the 6-3 mauling they endured at The Etihad on a more level playing field without dodgy goals being given.
These are extremely strange decisions and surely linked to the fact that Man United are so heavily in debt and desperate for Champions League football & a sale.
Howard Webb, who selects the referees and officials for each Premier League game, has in his infinite wisdom decided that the referee and linesman responsible for the most controversial and wrong decision of the season in Man United's favour be in charge of the crucial match between The Magpies & Red Devils which fuels a belief among fans and clued-up Premier League watchers that he favours Man United:
Referee Stuart Atwell also courted controversy when he ignored what the majority of the watching football public, journalists, pundits and referee experts alike unanimously labelled a straight red card to Marcel Sabitzer at Old Trafford for this horrible tackle:
As ever when it comes to Manchester United these days or VARchester United as they are often popularly known on social media due to the sheer number of ridiculous VAR decisions in their favour, the officials will unfortunately be a factor but Howard Webb is skating on thin ice himself picking pro-Man United officials as the noose tightens on the PGMOL officials who are more firmly than ever on the radar of match-fixing authorities after Paul Tierney & Peter Bankes' attempt to rob Newcastle United of a win and three points at Nottingham Forest by totally wrongly ruling out this Eliot Anderson goal and denying the Geordie youngster a first Premier League goal for his boyhood club:
Fortunately, Newcastle went onto win the game with a late Isak penalty but against a better team like Man United, a level officiating playing field will be needed for victory.
Back To The Football On The Pitch...
When the two sides met at Wembley in late February, Man U were one of the form teams not just in The Premier League but in European and world football having lost just one game in 19 matches stretching back to November losing only that one game in all competitions to Arsenal 3-2 and mainly winning the rest.
Yet Ten Hag's men have stuttered since in The Premier League by the high standards they were setting with that 7-0 mauling off Liverpool followed only by a 0-0 draw at home to Southampton and the developing 'Man United Are Back' aura has been erased & they are looking vulnerable again especially with the influential Casemiro suspended for another four games following a second red card in just three games:
Yet despite a potential injury to Sabitzer who could replace Casemiro, rumoured Newcastle-target Scott McTominay has enhanced his chances of claiming a starting berth for The Red Devils with a phenomenal international break scoring four goals for Scotland in the two games with braces against Cyprus & Spain playing as a no. 8:
Eddie Howe is believed to be a admirer of the 26 year-old Scot who would add strength in depth to Newcastle's midfield and while he has often likened to Geordie midfielder Sean Longstaff, that is no bad thing and Newcastle would effectively have two similar hard-running, pressing and tough-tackling midfielders with good all-round games to take on the challenges of juggling European football with the physical demands of the Premier League and domestic Cup competitions next season.
McTominay is likely to line-up at St James' Park on Sunday alongside Brazilian Fred - who has had a rest from Brazil international duty like Newcastle's Bruno Guimaraes - and Bruno Fernandes ahead of them with Christian Eriksen still injured from the tackle by Andy Carroll in The FA Cup match with Reading.
Marcus Rashford, who is having the season of his life scoring 30 goals already in 49 games, missed the England squad through injury and flying to New York but will not be fooling anybody after feigning an injury before The Carabao Cup Final yet playing and winning the dubious free-kick before the dubiously-awarded Casemiro offside opener and he'll likely be on the left side of attack, Antony on the right & Wout Weghorst central.
Newcastle Raring To Go and Firing on Most If Not All Cylinders
Eddie Howe was delighted to welcome back four players to full training this week ahead of the clash in the shape of defensive rock Sven Botman, who has recovered from food poisoning while away for international duty with the full Holland squad, Nick Pope who pulled out of the England squad with a minor injury is back for Sunday and Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin are good to go again after recovering from knocks:
The Newcastle manager has his own selection dilemma in the middle of the park with key midfielder Joelinton back available for selection after a suspension although Newcastle have won two games out of the two in his absence and Howe is normally loathe to change a winning team and usually a manager to reward loyalty and play a settled side although the international break may change that.
Howe has Anthony Gordon nearing fitness , Elliot Anderson impressing with his best game in a black and white shirt at Notts Forest and Jacob Murphy doing well on a rare start for The Magpies although Eddie Howe quashed rumours Paraguay Captain & NUFC top scorer Miguel Almiron would be back earlier than expected.
In his pre-match presser, Eddie Howe spoke of the club's break in Dubai as restorative especially for players who often carry some sort of injury yet still play:
And confirmed that Nick Pope and Sven Botman are back & the big injury news that the £40M man Anthony Gordon has trained and could play some part in Sunday's big game:
After talking up the merits of man of the moment record striker Alexander Isak:
Howe spoke of a "massive month" for Newcastle starting with Man United for the Top 4 Champions League push and "lessons learned" from the Carabao Cup Final:
A meticulous student of the game alongside his no.2 Jason Tindall, Howe will certainly be chastened and changed by that Cup loss and his Newcastle team will be all the more prepared to do battle with and defeat the Red Devils in what will be a St James' Park bearpit on Sunday with the famous atmosphere roaring The Magpies onto victory.
Prediction - Newcastle 3 Man United 1