For the first time in 27 years, Manchester United players will have Christmas Day off. How's that for a Christmas wish! With a Boxing Day fixture a traditional occassion in England, Christmas Day has always been about final preparations for the following day's work. Such has been the case at least since Sir Alex took charge and indeed during last season's traumatic David Moyes mini-era.
Christmas Day at work probably explains United's near flawless record in Boxing Day fixtures. United have only lost one game on December 26th in the premier league era. Fingers crossed that the day off pre-match does not upset that record.
United head into the meeting with Newcastle United on the back of a dropped two points at Villa Park last weekend. That result has put us under considerable pressure from the chasing pack and also probably fataly dented our title hopes. But this season was never about the title. The target remains to secure third place and hence automatic qualification to the Champions League. Anything beyond that is a bonus. We've got a rough run in at the end of the season, so between now and March, we have the all important clear run of winnable fixtures to make or break our season.
The frutstration though has been we've not been able to steer clear of injuries. If at first we struggled to put together a defence, now we cannot patch up a decent midfield. Wayne Rooney should deputise for Fellaini once again whilst the absence of Herrera meana that our bench on Friday will be thin in the middle. If Di Maria starts central midfield just on top of Carrick, we might have something going in that department.
It's no use challenging Louis van Gaal's choice systems. The 3-5-2, despite its obvious weaknesses seems destined to remain a part of United. Fingers crossed the bounce of the ball goes our way because in that system we shall need it.