Steve Bruce's gloves may be off but Newcastle United failed to lay a glove on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday night as The Magpies succumbed to a 2-0 defeat to Thomas Tuchel's Blues thanks to goals from substitute Olivier Giroud & Timo Werner.
Some of the Newcastle fanbase were worried observers of the rearranged game between Burnley and Fulham on Wednesday night when an away win for Scott Parker's men would have closed the gap between Newcastle in 17th to the bottom 3 to just 4 points but a draw kept it at 6 points and as Chris Waugh pointed out in The Athletic, The Magpies have been in worse predicaments after 24 games of the season and SKY Sports projects Steve Bruce's men to stay up comfortably by 10 points:
After energetic displays especially in the first half against Southampton and Everton to win two out of the previous three matches, Newcastle looked lethargic and were lightweight up front with Dwight Gayle taking the injured Callum WIlson's strike role.
Newcastle's attacking trio of 5ft 9in Gayle, 5ft 9in Miguel Almiron & 5ft 8in Allan Saint-Maximin didn't trouble the Chelsea backline with Gayle barely touching the ball & the fact that substitute Joelinton touched the ball twice as much as Gayle in half the time on the pitch when he came on in the 64th minute should be the clearest reminder that Newcastle must start games with more attacking presence and height with Man United's looking vulnerable in the air against Big Sam's West Brom conceding this:
In Joelinton, 6ft 1in, and, Andy Carroll, 6ft 4in, Newcastle possess two of the best headers of the ball in The Premier League and its an attacking weapon that must be used in the absence of Callum Wilson, no slouch in the air himself at a Les Ferdindand-esque 5ft 11in.
Joelinton won the 7th most aerial duels with 176 in The Premier League last season as Newcastle's main starting front man & has won the 18th most this season - 59 - despite starting just 12 of Newcastle's 24 games so far yet Newcastle have won three of those 12 games of only 7 total wins & Joelinton played a crucial part in seeing out a 4th win versus Southampton winning a game-high 7 headers as Newcastle were under siege.
In short, Joelinton's height and aerial ability makes a big difference to Newcastle.
Especially away from home against big teams like Chelsea and Man United, possessing an aerial presence helps Newcastle get up the pitch in an attacking sense and Joelinton can hold the ball bringing others into play as well as pressing, something he excelled at under Julian Nagelsmaan at Hoffenheim, and the big Brazilian can also be found defending corners with his head like Alan Shearer used to do for Newcastle and may have headed away the corner from which Chelsea scored their second goal on Monday.
Last season at Old Trafford, Joelinton started up front with Dwight Gayle and began the game brilliantly, setting Gayle up with a golden chance which he spurned over the bar before laying off Matty Longstaff's second goal against Man U in as many games:
and Joelinton's was a 56-minute shift in the home win against Old Trafford when he was replaced at half-time by Andy Carroll, who continued to give Harry Maguire & co a torrid time allowing Matty Longstaff to thunder in the winner on his full Newcastle debut:
Its clear that the younger Longstaff brother thrives playing against Man United and put in very good displays against Man City and Liverpool over the Christmas period so could be a wise selection as he seeks to extend his scoring run against The Red Devils and while brother Sean has had a tougher time of things this season than last year and in his breakout season in 2018/9 when Pep Guardiola no less said Man City couldn't handle him, he and his brother seem to perform better in tandem:
If the away game at Old Trafford is seen as a free hit as it is by many Newcastle fans before more winnable, even must-win games against Wolves and West Brom, why not rotate and rest key men like Isaac Hayden & JonJo Shelvey and let the Longstaffs brother loose?
Newcastle were 1-1 with Man United until Hayden went off at St. James' Park yet can't risk another injury to one of the most influential leaders in the dressing room so rest and rotation of players can play a vital part over the remainder of the season.
In his pre-match presser, Steve Bruce revealed another Geordie is champing at the bit to play - stalwart defender Paul Dummett, who was superb at centre-back when he came on second half against Southampton, & can be a real asset to The Magpies in the run-in:
Bruce, the first main Captain of Sir Alex's Ferguson trophy-winning Man United era knows better than anyone the dangers posed by The Red Devils at their best but he also pointed out that its not Mission Impossible or the daunting place it has been in the past with several teams winning there this season, most recently Sheffield United:
Man United romped home 4-0 against Real Sociedad in The Europa League last night so confidence levels will be high but the increasingly influential Scott McTominay limped off and he, striker Edinson Cavani and others will be subject to late fitness tests.
An injection of youth, fresh legs & energy could be key against the potentially tired legs of players like Bruno Fernandez, Marcus Rashford & co who are playing their third game in seven days as well the travel to the neutral venue of Turin's Stadium in Italy so Newcastle ringing the changes could be their best shot of a positive result in Manchester especially with added Geordie grit.
Prediction: Newcastle 2 Manchester United 1