Ralf Rangnick has won his first two Premier League games in charge of Manchester United, and Kevin Hatchard doesn't believe he'll be derailed by Newcastle United...
"Newcastle are on a bad run and have consistently lost against top-half teams. Manchester United's pace and directness should expose the Magpies' flaws."
Magpies reaching season's pivotal point
Like a listing ship inching towards harbour, Newcastle United are just days away from the January transfer window, where they hope to unleash their newly-acquired financial powers. However, as alluring as the idea of them assembling the footballing equivalent of the Avengers may be, there are no guarantees.
The Magpies are a tough sell at present. They are second from bottom at time of writing, and they have played more games than their rivals in the bottom four.
Although new boss Eddie Howe has delivered the club's first Premier League win of the season, he has since overseen a three-match losing streak against Leicester City (4-0), Liverpool (3-1) and Manchester City (4-0).
The start of January looks set to bring either salvation or damnation. Howe's men will, COVID-19 permitting, face fellow strugglers Southampton, Watford and Leeds United. Failures in those games will leave the Magpies in deep trouble, and going into the post-Christmas fixtures they were 1.834/5 on the Exchange's Relegation market. If you believe they'll turn things around in the long term, it's worth laying them before the January transfer window opens and that kinder run of fixtures begins.
Defender Javi Manquillo is back from illness, but Isaac Hayden is suspended. Enigmatic playmaker Jonjo Shelvey is battling to be fit, but Paul Dummett, Federico Fernandez and Jamal Lewis are all out.
Rangnick has been afforded precious time
While no-one of course wanted the kind of COVID-19 outbreaks that have seen Manchester United iced for 16 days, interim coach Ralf Rangnick has at least had time to settle in at Old Trafford and assess what is needed to deliver a winning and more dynamic brand of football. The German has made a decent start in terms of results, with Premier League wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich, and an inconsequential Champions League draw with Young Boys that saw a clutch of players left out.
The enforced break has allowed the return of players like Raphael Varane and Edinson Cavani from injury, but it remains to be seen what the ravages of COVID-19 have truly done to the fitness levels of the players. Rangnick is obsessive about such things, and I certainly wouldn't expect him to deploy players who can't currently cope with his physically demanding style.
There have already been some interesting selections. At right-back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has hitherto been sidelined in favour of the more attack-minded Diogo Dalot (although he was injured for the Norwich game anyway), while Alex Telles has started both Premier League wins at left-back. It feels like Harry Maguire's place at centre-back is potentially threatened by Varane's return, as Rangnick has shown in the past that he is no respecter of reputation. As the German beds in his 4-2-2-2 formation, don't be surprised if Fred and Scott McTominay retain their place in the long term.
Paul Pogba is definitely out because of injury, but everyone else in the first-team squad has returned to training. Rangnick was generally impressed by the way his players stuck to their personal training schedules at home, and seemed in confident mood. Ahead of the Boxing Day fixtures, United are odds-on favourites in the Top 4 market at 1.9420/21.
Rangnick's men can grind out the win
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United were a capricious, unpredictable beast, relying on individual flair rather than consistent tactical schemes. It's early in Rangnick's reign, but already one can see a structure forming, and the former Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig boss has had plenty of time to prepare for this trip to Tyneside.
Yes, Newcastle will be roared on by a sold-out St. James's Park, but in terms of quality they have consistently struggled to match the top sides. They have suffered defeats by two goals or more against Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester City, Arsenal and indeed United, who smashed them 4-1 at Old Trafford.
I'll back Manchester United -1.0 on the Asian Handicap here at 1.84/5. If the Red Devils win by a single goal, we get our stake returned, but a bigger win gets us a full pay-out.
Don't expect a shootout
It may take a while for Manchester United to regain their rhythm after such a long break, and both of their Premier League matches under Ralf Rangnick have ended in 1-0 wins against limited opposition. Newcastle have only scored three goals across their last six Premier League matches, so this might not be as exciting an encounter as the market expects.
Keep an eye on rapid Rashford
Rangnick's speedy and vertical style should benefit England striker Marcus Rashford, who has started both Premier League wins under the German. Rashford's speed and direct running can cause Newcastle problems, and I'm happy to back him in the To Score market at 2.962/1. Check on the team news to see if he starts, given that we don't yet know how Rangnick will assess his players' fitness.
Kevin Hatchard 2021-22 Premier League P/L
Points Staked: 24
Points Returned: 21.83
P/L: -2.17 points
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