Paul McGrath: Ten Hag can start dreaming of a title challenge next year with a win over Magpies
The battle for champions league places really hots up but Manchester United should have too much for Newcastle
What a game we have in store at St James’ Park this afternoon.
Manchester United can more or less nail down third place in the Premier League with an away win.
But Newcastle United can go third with a win today too, and thus heap pressure on Spurs before they play at Everton tomorrow night.
The Red Devils have won a Cup already this season and are hunting two more. The players are clearly buying into everything Erik ten Hag is trying to get them to do.
After a worrying early period of the season, where United seemed all at sea, the Dutchman has put his team on an even keel – and they are winning way more games than they are losing as the business end approaches.
Ten Hag may have more trouble in the summer when he will have to do a mini clear-out to make room for the footballers he wants to buy to help the club take the next step.
The next step being making the club Premier League title challengers.
Take it from me, United are not too far away from that status.
Perhaps two more top-quality buys.
Defender Luke Shaw, with a new four-year contract signed last week, won’t be one of those going.
But Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay and Anthony Martial are just three players who the club will seek to move on during the summer months.
And if they get first-team chances between now and the end of the season, they must show themselves off to potential suitors.
Ironically, Newcastle are one of those team rumoured to be very interested in McTominay.
Yet, for now, all is good with United and they will see this afternoon’s showdown as a huge chance to really nail down that Champions League spot for next season.
Liverpool are looking very dodgy for a fourth place finish but they have no Cups to worry about, so this is a massive game for Manchester United. Get this done and they can really turn their minds to the two Cups, starting with Sevilla in the Europa League next Thursday week.
But it will not be easy at all.
I’ve a lot of time for the job Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe has done in the North East over the last two seasons.
He has had money to spend, but has spent it well, on quality players like Kieran Trippier and Bruno Guimaraes. And Eddie has steadied the whole Newcastle ship after years of turbulence with managers who clearly never had the backing of the fans.
Howe, by contrast, is loved in the stands at St James’ and is a hugely popular figure in the city.
It is a huge difference in the mindset at the club.
The Geordies had long made it clear that managers like Rafael Benitez and Steve Bruce were not for them.
If Howe’s team has a weakness this season, it is that the Magpies have drawn too many games.
They have lost just three Premier League ties this season, but have finished up level 11 times in all.
Had Newcastle been able to win even three of those 11 games, they would have an extra six points in the table and it is they who would be controlling affairs going into this showdown.
I don’t think Manchester United’s comfortable win in the Carabao Cup Final in February at Wembley will have any relevance to this match.
Of much more relevance is today’s venue, which has been a real fortress for Newcastle.
Nick Pope has been a smashing goalkeeper for the home team all season and they don’t concede too many goals there.
Today Newcastle United need their flair attacking players, Callum Wilson, Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin to come up with the goals.
That will ensure this is not another Newcastle draw, this is a game they have to win. Manchester United will be looking to Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes for further inspiration.
As it has been so often this season
The suspended Casemiro will be a loss for United.
His clash with fellow Brazilian Guimaraes in midfield would have been a sight to behold.
They are two quality acts.
I feel Manchester United might just get this done.
Yes, it has been a while since they played as a team because of the international break.
But United had plenty of momentum at their back going into that fortnight and I expect them to come out the other side still winning.
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