BY AARON COOPER
Santa, please deliver us a win, we’ve been good this year.
Seven games undefeated, a defence slowly starting to gel and a Colombian striker who may thank a sprinkling of Christmas magic as he hits form, it’s a good time to be a United fan.
‘Tis the season to be jolly certainly for those in the red half of Manchester. United have the best Boxing Day record in the league, securing maximum points in 19 of the 22 matches, the only loss away to Middlesbrough in 2002.
If that’s not enough to have you positively salivating over the prospect of Friday’s showdown with Newcastle, United’s recent form is second only to cross-town rivals Manchester City and Argentinian spark Angel di Maria is expected to start.
Manager Louis van Gaal has however ruled out a return for most of United’s wounded with Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Daley Blind all unavailable. Chris Smalling is a possible to return after hobbling off against Southampton.
“[Chris] Smalling is a question mark – I have to look tomorrow,” van Gaal said on Wednesday.
“For a few players it [this period] is fun because they are recovering quickly, but you also have players who are not recovering so quickly, so I have to rotate.
“My problem is I have a lot of injured players. That is the problem with these matches in the coming weeks.”
van Gaal has been pleased with the efforts of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young who have both played unorthodox defensive roles of late. The Dutchman admits this is not optimal, but concedes it is his only option with injuries felling Rafael and Luke Shaw.
“I am more or less obliged to play with wing-backs because the real full-backs [Shaw and Rafael] were not fit”
“I have to select what I want but now I am forced to select. For a manager, that is not so good.”
In contrast, shotstopper David de Gea is relishing in the busy holiday period that evades the Spanish leagues. The former Atletico Madrid star sees it as a chance to extend the Reds’ unbeaten streak and provide entertainment for the festivities.
“It’s all about keeping this good run going, both as an individual and as a team,” De Gea stated.
“It’s a bit strange for all of us who are coming here from other leagues, but at the same time, these are the fixtures you really enjoy.”
Another Red Devil hitting form is loanee Radamel Falcao. The prolific Colombian has quickly become a fan favourite, and only enhanced his reputation with a superb equaliser at Villa Park.
Skipper Wayne Rooney has heaped praise on his attacking counterpart.
“It was great for Falcao to get on the score sheet, and it was a great header.
“I’m pleased for him, and I hope he continues that into the next few games.”
Jonas Gutierrez is expected to make a miraculous return for Newcastle, after battling testicular cancer. Steven Taylor is a possibility to play after suffering a nasty facial injury.
Alan Pardew will be without Cheick Tiote through suspension after the Ivorian’s fifth caution of the season in last weekend’s disappointing Tyne Wear derby.
Newcastle have won only won four of their 20 Boxing Day encounters. A Christmas miracle is unlikely facing an in-form United side who haven’t lost at the Theatre of Dreams since the opening day.
United have only won 23 of the past 25 meetings between the clubs, including a 7-goal Boxing Day epic at Old Trafford in 2012.