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Wednesday 12 December 2018

Martial return boosts United for Saints test

Anthony Martial Pic:Reuters
Anthony Martial Pic:Reuters

Pep Guardiola has admitted he wants to "escape" from a "terrible" holiday programme despite seeing Manchester City surge 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

Wednesday evening's 1-0 win at Newcastle extended City's winning run to 18 games and a record-equalling 11 away victories, but with a trip to Crystal Palace on Sunday and Watford's visit to the Etihad Stadium next Tuesday, he admits the schedule is taking its toll.

He said: "I saw the schedule in my office the other day and I wanted to escape because it is terrible. "The games we are going to play, it's tough. People say we have to play on Boxing Day (St Stephen's Day) and all the games in December, but it's also January with the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup and then the Champions League in February.

"It will be tough for us - but it will be tough for our opponents and our competitors."

City turned in a dominant display on Tyneside as Rafael Benitez's men sat deep and in numbers in an effort to frustrate them, and they had only Raheem Sterling's 31st-minute strike to show for their efforts when the Magpies launched a late assault which might have snatched them a point.

Guardiola was philosophical when asked about Newcastle's approach.

Beat

He said: "As a manager, I have to adapt my team to convince them. In these 18 games, we have played against teams who have done high pressing, low pressing, counter-attacks, just set pieces, just like Tottenham who tried to go forward and attack, and in all of them, we have been able to beat them.

"The magnificent thing about football and any manager of any team is they can play any way. Teams can try to trick you, but you have to be able to beat them and until now we have been able to do that."

Benitez's tactics were slammed by television pundit Gary Neville, who branded them "embarrassing".

However, the Spaniard said: "When you play against Manchester City, you have to be aware of the way they are doing things now. You just have to look at what happened when they played against Tottenham, Bournemouth or Swansea.

"We were in the game right until the end, it was very close. Our fans are clever and they know we needed to do things this way." Mohamed Diame also defended Newcastle's game plan and insisted it nearly paid off.

He said: "We knew it would not be easy, but the team tried to work hard. We had a game plan, we stuck with the game plan and we were unlucky to concede the goal in the first half.

"But the team worked hard. It is difficult - this team has won the respect of all the Premier League teams and every team defends a lot against them. We tried our best and it was a tough one.

"We saw at the end that with the fans pushing, we could have got maybe something."

Anthony Martial is back in training with Manchester United ahead of tomorrow's evening's clash with Southampton.

The Frenchman missed the St Stephen's Day draw with Burnley with what was reported as a "minor knee problem" sustained against Leicester two days before Christmas.

But Martial was pictured taking part in yesterday's training session at Carrington as Jose Mourinho continues preparations for the Premier League clash at Old Trafford.

The 22-year-old has scored eight goals so far this season and was a big miss against Burnley with United lacking creativity in the final third.

Matteo Darmian was also missing on St Stephen's Day with a minor injury but has now returned to training and could provide Mourinho with an extra option if Antonio Valencia's absence continues. The Ecuadorian picked up a hamstring injury against West Brom.

It is a timely boost for United, with three other players still in the treatment room.

Eric Bailly is a long-term absentee and ankle surgery is expected to keep him on the sidelines until February or March.

Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick are also in the middle of lengthy absences.

Carrick is recovering from a heart problem and has not played since the Carabao Cup game against Burton Albion in September - his only appearance so far this season.

Contract

Fellaini, who is out of contract in the summer and free to negotiate with overseas clubs from next month, has been out since the end of November and is not expected back over the festive period.

Meanwhile, former United striker Dwight Yorke says Alex Ferguson has backed Mourinho not to change his style because he has been "very successful doing it this way".

The 54-year-old has been tasked with returning United to the summit of world football again after a dismal three seasons following Ferguson's retirement.

Having finished a disappointing sixth last season, Mourinho has guided United to second-place in the Premier League - but they are a whopping 15 points behind bitter rivals Manchester City at the top.

The Portuguese's style of play has come under fire at various points this season, particularly during big games against Liverpool, Chelsea and City, but Ferguson believes he will not change to find a way past City, according to Yorke.

"He's done that type of stuff as a manager throughout his career," Yorke said.

"He's been very successful doing it this way. I had this conversation with Sir Alex last week, and he can't see him changing because if you're successful this way, then why would you want to change?"

Mourinho has won 25 trophies since taking charge at Porto back in 2002, but now looks set to go a third-straight season without winning a league title.

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