A very bright start for United under Jose Mourinho has rapidly faded over the last couple of months and there seems to be a brittleness to the team’s confidence and an uncertainty to their play once more.
The Red Devils may have won three of their last five games (in all competitions), but it was only in the 1-0 win over Tottenham where they looked anything like their best, and even then, they scored with one of only a few chances they created in a tight game.
The other wins were against a weakened Swansea side in the League Cup, and an average Benfica side in Europe. They may still be second on the table, but are already eight points behind a seemingly unstoppable Manchester City side.
Mourinho is now tasked with beating old foe Rafa Benitez, as the Portuguese manager tries to get his side back to winning ways after defeat to Chelsea in their last outing.
Despite their run-ins in the past, Mourinho insists there is no beef between the two of them.
“We were both successful in European competitions – not many have won Champions League and Europa League, and we are some of the few managers who did it.
“Of course, between Liverpool and Chelsea, we had matches and rivalry, and it happens. But I have huge respect for him, for his talent, for his career, and I want to believe he feels the same,” Mourinho told SkySports.
Newcastle, 11th on the table, are also in a bit of a slump as they approach Saturday’s match after consecutive 0-1 defeats in the league, against Bournemouth at home, and away to Burnley. They have claimed only five points from a possible 15 in the last five league games.
Magpies boss Benitez, on facing a Mourinho side for the first time since 2007, said: “We play against Manchester United. It is not key who the managers are. He is a good manager who has won a lot. I’m more concerned about (Romelu) Lukaku, (Juan) Mata and (Marcus) Rashford.”
In team news, Marcos Rojo is back in training but unlikely to feature, while Phil Jones picked up a calf injury in England’s friendly against Germany last week and is also expected to be left out. Paul Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Michael Carrick have all returned to training and may be included, at least on the bench.
For the visitors, Paul Dummett and Mikel Merino are side-lined with injury. Christian Atsu is also a big doubt to play, as is Jamaal Lascelles.