Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken about his plans for our opening game of 2019 - Wednesday's Premier League encounter at Newcastle United (20:00 GMT kick-off).
The Reds have won all three games of Ole's temporary stint in charge so far in convincing fashion, and are looking to keep the fine run going when tackling Rafael Benitez's Magpies at St. James' Park.
One player definitely ruled out is defender Eric Bailly, who is suspended after being sent off against Bournemouth for a reckless challenge on Ryan Fraser.
Matteo Darmian will provide cover with Phil Jones likely to start alongside Victor Lindelof, after coming off the bench in the 4-1 victory over the Cherries. Chris Smalling, who might return in time for the game against Tottenham Hotspur on 13 January, and Marcos Rojo are still sidelined.
When asked if he will only have two centre-backs available for the trip to Tyneside, Solskjaer replied:
“That’s enough isn’t it? It should be enough with two! We’ll have to look at it, of course, but we’ve got Darmian, who can definitely play centre-back. I don’t think Rojo will make it so it will probably be Darmian as back-up centre-back.”
Chilean star Alexis Sanchez is set to feature for the first time under the Norwegian after being close to making the bench at the weekend.
“Alexis has had some great training sessions over the last few days and wanted to be here [against Bournemouth] as well but we’ve had to manage him,” explained Ole.
“He’s been out for a month. He will be involved [at Newcastle], yes.
”He wants to play all the time, he’s one of those characters. He made himself available but I think it was a few days too early for him. He’s not had enough fitness work but he is champing at the bit.
“I think Alexis is a player that would benefit from the interchanging, rotation and movements and, of course, more chances. If we create more chances and get the ball in the final third, he will be an asset for us. On the floor, in between or in behind, I think he’s looking forward to it. Certainly, it’s looked like it in the session the other day when he scored quite a few nice goals and that was encouraging.”
Marcus Rashford is in red-hot form and should shrug off any fatigue in order to face Newcastle, although Romelu Lukaku's goalscoring return to the fold does provide another option for Solskjaer.
“I think Marcus would be okay,” added the caretaker boss.
“He’s been working so hard and has been a bit tired. But I think he will be alright [for Newcastle]. I hope so.”
There could be some rotation within the squad, although it is probable there will be more changes for the Emirates FA Cup tie against Reading on Saturday, in order to ensure some individuals receive adequate rest in this busy period.
HOW ARE NEWCASTLE SHAPING UP?
The Magpies left Kenedy out of the side for the 1-1 draw at Watford last time out, with Benitez explaining the decision was a
“technical” one rather than due to injury.
Ki Sung-yeung is absent due to his involvement with South Korea in the Asian Cup but Japan have allowed Yoshinori Muto to head off after the match with United. Jonjo Shelvey, who has performed well against the Reds in the past, is back from a thigh problem.
The home side are likely to play with three central defenders but Federico Fernandez (hip) and Ciaran Clark (ankle) are doubts, while Florian Lejeune may not be ready in time after his lay-off.
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