Guest Author: Ojo Olayiwola of Football Weeks

Manchester United started the season on a high note but have since gone into a decline as they have only managed to gather four points from their last four league games and need to knuckle down to revive their title race.

However, with the return of their key players from injury and the pressure of upcoming fixtures not as fierce as the previous ones, the Red Devils have reason to be optimistic.

The story is different with the Magpies, whose trip to Old Trafford marks the beginning of their run into their biggest challenges of the season with fixtures against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City coming immediately afterwards.

The newly-promoted outfit will be happy with their performance in the top flight thus far, occupying 11th position in the Premier League table. Having said that, they will be keen to avoid a drop in standard during the winter months.

In this clash, the host has the advantage over the visitor – Newcastle have only registered one win at Old Trafford since 1972 and that was when David Moyes was at the helm. The two sides clashes in the Premier League during Newcastle’s last season in the top division (2015-16) both ended in draws, one of which was 0-0 at Old Trafford.

So here we bring you three key battles which could determine the outcome of the match.

Romelu Lukaku vs Jamaal Lascelles

Despite being on a goal drought for the past seven matches, Lukaku currently holds a record of 18 goals this season for club and country.

Manager Jose Mourinho’s fear would have been allayed as he watched the Belgian striker score two goals against Mexico last week to end his goalless run and he will hope that he can replicate that performance with the Red Devils.

Newcastle are highly dependent on their defence which has saved them several times, in fact only four teams can boast less goals conceded than their 10 in the league this season (although they are yet to face six of the strongest eight attacks in the league).

Steering their defensive ship is 23-year-old captain Lascelles – well skilled in the penalty area at organizing his defence. He has proven to be consistent since the beginning of the season. His biggest challenge of the season to date comes on Saturday.

Paul Pogba vs Jonjo Shelvey

There is a big question mark over the fitness of Pogba, who is yet to feature in any game since he picked up a hamstring injury against Basel in September.

Undoubtedly one of the best players at Old Trafford, his side have certainly suffered during his absence and have often found it difficult to win key midfield battles. The Frenchman’s return should put an end to their struggles in this department and boost their chances of winning the game.

There is a probability that his direct opponent will be former Liverpool man Shelvey who will need to show his improved discipline to the world after he was issued a red card in a reckless moment in the opening day loss to Tottenham.

The England international’s possession time will be limited and United will look to contain him within his territory to ensure the visitors out-ball is cut-off directly at source.

Ashley Young vs Matt Ritchie

Ashley Young has been putting his talents on full display for United this season, so much so that he earned a recall to the England national team. One of Mourinho’s most reliable players, he has shown his knowledge of the game with his defensive displays while also posing a threat in attack.

He is most likely to encounter Scotland international Matt Richie at the back. Richie has started every Premier League game since manager Rafael Benitez took over. His pace and directness, which has the capability to wreak havoc for the host, is one his most alluring attributes.

However, his tendency to cut inside onto his left-foot may be restricted in the clash due to Young’s tendency to also move inside. That could clutter up the central midfield area and ultimately render the Scot’s threat invalid.

So there’s the battles which could possibly decide the game. Let us know what you think below.

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