The international break was as arduous and protracted as ever this month, but it did provide some comforting distance – a chance for respite – from a difficult month that saw Manchester United fall eight points ahead of Manchester City.
The likes of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo have all returned from injury but are unlikely to start, while Romelu Lukaku received an important boost by becoming Belgium’s all-time top goalscorer.
And with that in mind, here are three players who must start against Newcastle United on Saturday.
The Belgian claimed three goals over the international break, making history in the process and, more pertinently, reminding every supporter of his natural killer instinct in the box – something starved in recent times by a lack of midfield fluidity and delivery from out wide.
He has only failed to score in one Premier League game at home this season and Mourinho will want to see his side creating space in the final third for the 24-year-old to inflict damage as much as possible on Saturday.
In the short time he was involved against Chelsea, Fellaini almost made an emphatic difference, bringing down a long pass and firing off a shot that Thibaut Courtois had to smartly save during the latter stages. That he didn’t score misses the point: even when his fitness was undoubtedly below the required level, Fellaini made his presence felt.
And United’s midfield has missed that over the last month or so, with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera looking solid but not doing much else. Mourinho will be glad to welcome the 29-year-old’s disruptive influence back to the starting XI.
The Ecuadorian has received a well deserved rest over the international break and will now return to the right hand side raring to go against Newcastle on Saturday.
Benitez will most likely opt for a compact, organised approach and attack United on the counter, and the hosts will need to make full use of Valencia’s cut and thrust on the flanks to ensure Newcastle don’t get too comfortable in their shape.
United have lost some of the ferociousness that hallmarked their attacking forays earlier in the season and their captain’s role in reigniting that aspect of United’s play will be vital.