There is certainly not much festive joy to be had around St James’ Park at the moment, with Newcastle conceding 11 goals in their three most recent defeats as their survival task becomes harder by the week.
It took all of five minutes for Ruben Dias to open the scoring for Manchester City last time out, and the champions would complete the rout through Joao Cancelo, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez as the Magpies fell short once again.
After starting the month in promising fashion with that much-needed win over Burnley, the harsh reality check for Newcastle sees them remain 19th in the table ahead of the Boxing Day fixtures – level on points with Norwich City having played a game more.
Even 17th-placed Watford – who are three points ahead of the Magpies – have two games in hand as Omicron rages across the country, but the appointment of Howe has not exactly led to the upturn in fortunes that the new owners would have aspired for.
A tally of 41 goals conceded is unsurprisingly the worst defensive record in the 2021-22 top-flight season, and having been breached 79 times in the calendar year, Newcastle could set a new unwanted record for most Premier League goals conceded in that period.
On the face of it, three defeats from their last eight Premier League games at St James’ Park is hardly abysmal, but a refreshed Man United outfit will not be prepared to play nice on Monday.
One of several English sides to have seen their winter preparations disrupted amid the surge in coronavirus cases, Man United will be taking to the pitch for the first time since December 11 when they make the journey to Tyneside.
A cluster of COVID-19 forced the postponement of clashes with Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion as the club’s training centre was shut, but Ralf Rangnick’s crop are back on the practice pitches and ready to pick up where they left off.
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The football has been far from dazzling, but a pair of crucial 1-0 wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich City means that the Red Devils occupy sixth spot in the table before Sunday’s games kick off – five points behind fourth-placed Arsenal with two games in hand.
It is now six games unbeaten in all competitions for Man United since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s exit, and having scored in all of their away league games so far this term, Newcastle’s depleted defence could be in for another rough ride on home soil.
The Red Devils have also won each of their last four encounters with Newcastle – scoring at least three goals on each occasion – although they are without a clean sheet against the Magpies since January 2019.