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St James’ Park awaits Man United

Club football is back following the third and final international break of the season, as the home stretch of the 2022/23 campaign looms large.

Manchester United return to action for the first time in two weeks and manager Erik ten Hag will be hopeful his men are fresh and raring to go ahead of a crucial period in what has been an exhausting, stop-start season up to this point.

The recent international break came at a crucial time and it would've been seen as an imperative breather for the players, some of whom had begun to look fatigued and leggy in weeks gone by.

United have contested 25 competitive matches since the conclusion of the FIFA World Cup in December, with the Red Devils averaging a game every three-and-a-half days until their latest encounter versus Fulham in the FA Cup.

Ten Hag's Trusted Lieutenants:

A relentless schedule has seen Ten Hag's troops competing on all four fronts, with the Carabao Cup winners looking to further add FA Cup and UEFA Europa League silverware to the collection as well as to remain in firm contention for a top-four spot in the Premier League.

A handful of players have featured in the vast majority of United's matches this term, namely Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford who have both been involved in 44 matches for their club since the beginning of the current campaign in August.

In particular, Rashford has played in every one of United's 25 games following the World Cup and the 25-year-old is his team's top scorer with 27 goals in all competitions.

Fernandes, meanwhile, is another to have been heavily relied on in Ten Hag's first season at the helm. Seen as a crucial component by his boss, the Portugal international and United's regular skipper has clocked up 3,841 minutes at club level this season – more than any other player (goalkeepers included) across Europe's top five leagues.

The data below was compiled prior to United's FA Cup tie with Fulham, in which Fernandes played the full 90 minutes.

Most minutes played in Europe's top leagues, as of 17 March 2023. (via The Athletic)

Lisandro Martínez and Fred have also featured prominently for United, with the pair of South Americans racking up 41 appearances apiece until this point.

With countryman Casemiro still due to serve three parts of a four-match suspension, Fred is likely to be called upon as the Red Devils visit Newcastle United in a massive Premier League clash on Sunday.

Marcel Sabitzer picked up a knock whilst on international duty with Austria, however the on-loan midfielder was spotted in training and has been given the all-clear ahead of United's trip to Tyneside.

Christian Eriksen has resumed individual training at Carrington after he sustained an ankle injury in United's victory over Reading in the FA Cup fourth round in January. Eriksen, 31, returns at a crucial time and the Dane's reintroduction could be of huge importance to his fellow teammates.

Although he won't be involved versus Newcastle, Eriksen is expected to return to full training in the coming weeks as he looks to provide his heaps of experience and expertise in United's bid to end the season on a positive note.

One individual likely to be involved on Sunday is Anthony Martial. The striker has been severely troubled with injuries this term and Ten Hag has thus opted for a cautious approach in reintegrating the Frenchman back into the matchday squad.

Martial has clocked up only 461 minutes across his nine games in the Premier League, averaging 51 minutes per appearance. His last league outing came against Manchester City in mid-January.

Contract Talks:

With the current campaign nearing its conclusion, plans are set in motion for Ten Hag to continue his rebuild during the summer. While some players will arrive and others depart from the club, there are also a select few whose contracts are set to be renewed with a nod of approval from the manager.

Luke Shaw, for example, is reported to have agreed a new four-year deal at Old Trafford amidst a commendable season for the England international. Shaw, 27, joined United in 2014 – a teenager at the time – but a double leg fracture the following year delayed the left-back from cementing his status as an important member of the first-team.

Having nailed down his spot in Ten Hag's long-term plans, Shaw is set to extend his stay at the Theatre of Dreams until 2027.

Another player approaching the backend of his current deal is Marcus Rashford. The in-form forward is enduring the most productive season of his professional career, underlining the urge for United to tie him down to a new long-term deal.

It has been reported both the player and the club remain calm in negotiations and that an agreement should be reached sooner than later. Rashford's current contract runs until June 2024 and it comes as no surprise the 25-year-old has admirers beyond the Premier League.

Rashford has scored 27 goals this season. (Photo: NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Moreover, speculation has been rife surrounding the future of David de Gea at United. Now into his 12th season at the club, and with doubts over his capabilities of a modern goalkeeper, it remains to be seen how the Spaniard's short-term future pans out.

Reports suggest De Gea has turned down United's initial offer of a new deal but that negotiations are positive and a compromise should be reached regarding terms.

De Gea signed a bumper contract extension in 2019, elevating him as the best-paid goalkeeper in world football on a staggering £375,000 weekly wage, though he would need to take a substantial slash in salary in order to prolong his stay at United.

Newcastle in Numbers:

No club has lost fewer Premier League matches than Newcastle (3), nor has any team tasted defeat at home less than the Magpies this term (1).

In addition, United's next opponents have conceded just 19 goals – fewer than any other team in the English top flight – and they have kept the joint-most clean sheets in the division (12).

Newcastle have racked up 47 points from 26 games though Eddie Howe's men have recorded just three wins from their last ten league meetings, with 14 points from a possible 30 since New Year's Eve.

In comparison with this stage last season, Newcastle are 19 points better off and they have registered twice as many wins in the league (12:6).

Their current tally of 47 points is just two fewer than their total points in 2021/22. The men in black and white are on course to record their strongest points finish since Sir Bobby Robson was in charge in the early 2000s.

With no European football this season, and after being knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round, Newcastle have enjoyed a significantly less congested schedule than most other Premier League teams bidding for European qualification.

The Magpies mustered an impressive 38 points in the first half of the season and a similar return in the second half would almost certainly secure them Champions League football for next season. In six of the previous eight Premier League campaigns, 71 points has been enough for a top-four finish.

Despite several strong showings against the dubbed 'lesser' sides in the division, Newcastle have picked up only 9 points out of 24 against the traditional 'big six' teams. They have played out 11 draws in 2022/23, with only Brentford involved in more stalemates.

Small Margins:

It is all to play for in this heated tie, with the teams separated by just 3 points ahead of kick-off on Sunday.

United and Newcastle met in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley, just five weeks ago, as United clinched its first trophy since 2017.

This time around, with home ground advantage, the Magpies will fancy themselves to snatch all three points from Ten Hag's mighty charges.

In the Newcastle camp, first-choice goalkeeper Nick Pope is expected to take his place in between the sticks after he withdrew from the England squad to nurse a thigh problem.

Pope previously missed out on the Carabao Cup final through suspension while backup keeper Martin Dubravka was cup-tied for the affair at Wembley.

Central defender Sven Botman is expected to be involved at St James' Park after pulling out of the Netherlands camp with suspected food poisoning.

Joelinton is also back in the fray following suspension, although Miguel Almiron is ruled out and Anthony Gordon faces a late fitness test ahead of the 16:30 BST kick-off.

Man United Upcoming Fixtures:

2 April - Newcastle Utd (A) - Premier League

5 April - Brentford (H) - Premier League

8 April - Everton (H) - Premier League

13 April - Sevilla (H) - Europa League QF

16 April - Nottingham Forest (A) - Premier League

20 April - Sevilla (A) - Europa League QF

23 April - Brighton (N) - FA Cup SF

27 April - Tottenham (A) - Premier League

30 April - Aston Villa (H) - Premier League

(Cover photo: @manchesterunited on Instagram)

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