NEWCASTLE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 19: Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United goes up for a header with Nile Ranger of Newcastle United during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United at St James' Park on April 19, 2011 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
On Saturday afternoon, Newcastle United trek west to Old Trafford for a Premier League clash with Manchester United. These two old foes met twice last season in league play -- the first was during the season's opening weekend when United defeated a newly promoted Newcastle side 3-0 in Manchester. In the reverse fixture in April at St James' Park, the result was a scoreless draw. The Magpies have have not won at Old Trafford since 1972 and have not defeated United in any competition since 2001.
United come into the match sitting second in the table and five points shy of rival Manchester City. Their last three league ties have resulted in gritty 1-0 victories over Swansea City, Sunderland, and Everton. In UEFA Champions League play, the Reds are coming off a disappointing 2-2 draw against Benfica and will now need a result versus FC Basel on December 7 if they are qualify for the knockout stages. Benfica will be Group C winners if they are able to defeat Otelul Galati on the same day in Lisbon. United have also reached the quarter-final of the Carling Cup and will face Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Injuries have been a significant concern for the club recently recent news has brought some positives. Wayne Rooney is expected to be available for Saturday's match while defenders Chris Smalling and Rafael have recovered from their injuries as well. However, manager Sir Alex Ferguson revealed at his pre-match conference that Anderson would be out until February with a knee injury. Midfielder Tom Cleverley and striker Michael Owen continue to be out with long-term injuries. The status of defender Jonny Evans and striker Danny Welbeck are unknown after each were unavailable for the midweek match versus Benfica.
Newcastle have been one of the surprise stories of the season thus far with their early success. They currently sit fourth in the table and were previously unbeaten in league until their 3-1 defeat by City this past weekend. The Magpie's 11 goals conceded in 12 matches -- tied for the least in the Premier League -- is indicative of their impressive start. Their industry and grit have led them to 25 points in just 12 matches. Newcastle were eliminated from the Carling Cup when they were defeated 4-3 by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park in Round 4.
The biggest injury news over at the Toon is the one to combative midfielder Chiek Tiote. The Cote d'Ivoire international is doubtful for the bout at Old Trafford. In addition, striker Leon Best and midfielder Sylvain Marveaux are expected to be out with groin injuries.
It is perhaps time for Fergie to rotate the squad a bit after two intense ties in the past week. David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, and Nani are all candidates to be rested after starting in both of those matches. The likes of Rooney, Javier Hernandez (Chicharito), Ji-Sung Park, Ryan Giggs, and Nemanja Vidic are all strong candidates to start versus Newcastle after not being featured as starters versus Benfica on Tuesday. Wednesday's upcoming Carling Cup quarter-final tie versus Crystal Palace will present an opportunity to rest key players so Fergie likely will keep that in mind when making his selections.
In goal, No. 1 de Gea is anticipated to start but backup Anders Lindegaard could feature. In central defense, Vidic is certain to feature and his partner will likely be either Smalling or Evans. At left-back, Evra is the clear first-choice but if he is rested, look for Fabio to deputise. Rafael could see his first action of the season at right-back after recovering from shoulder surgery. Smalling, Jones, and Fabio are selection options here as well. In central midfield, the rested Fletcher and Giggs appear likely but the in-form Carrick could start as well. Out wide in attack, Park is anticipated to start and opposite of him could be Antonio Valencia, Nani, or Ashley Young. Up front, Rooney starts if fit enough and he likely is partnered by Chicharito. If Rooney cannot play, look for Dimitar Berbatov to deputise.
The selection choices for Newcastle manager Alan Pardew are simpler. No. 1 Tim Krul is expected in goal while captain Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor are the anticipated center-back tandem. At right-back, Danny Simpson should start as should Ryan Taylor at left-back. Danny Guthrie can be anticipated to deputise for Tiote and he will probably be partnered in the center of the park by Yohan Cabaye. The industrious Jonas Gutierrez is likely on the left flank in attack and opposite of him on the right, expect to see old United boy Gabriel Obertan. Shola Ameobi is possible on the right flank as well. Up front, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa are the anticipated pairing.
* Newcastle's wing play: Pardew typically deploys his side in a fairly straight-forward 4-4-2. In this system, the wide players are highly involved in their side's attack. Jonas and R.Taylor combine well on the left while Simpson and Obertan have shown similar effectiveness on the right. Jonas uses his industry to get up and down the touchline and this provides obvious benefit in both attack and in defending against an attacking right-back. R.Taylor does well to provide overlapping runs -- while whipping in good crosses -- when Jonas tucks in and attacks the box at angle. When Jonas stays hear the left touchline, R.Taylor is comfortable going inside and use his ability to shoot from range. As United fans are aware, Obertan has plenty of pace and that is used for counterattacks. Newcastle often looks to play the ball into space for the Frenchman to run onto when they try to break at speed. United's full-backs will have to brcareful not to get caught out and United's wingers will need to track back and prevent the full-back from being overrun.
* Can United penetrate Newcastle?: United is likely to control possession in this match but will they be able to break down the Newcastle defense? The Magpies are conceding less than a goal per match in league and this perhaps has been the key to their splendid start. Possession does not necessarily translate to goal scoring chances so United will need to find a way to be incisive in attack. For United, this typically comes from two areas on the pitch: (1) their wingers and (2) the central player between the lines.
If Park and Giggs start together, they likely will be interchangeable as narrow left-sided players while Evra provides width with overlapping runs. If this occurs, the right winger will need to stay wide and near the touchline so that he can help stretch the defense. Rooney typically operates in the space between the lines and if he is fit to play, a stretched defense can allow for the channels in attack to be wider -- Wazza is capable of providing through balls to pierce these channels.
Carrick could possibly start his third match in 8 days if Fergie feels the need for a deep-lying playmaker. When the midfielder is in form -- as he has been the past week -- he does well to dictate the tempo of a match. If the pace is frenzied and United are being opened up, he does well to slow the match down until United are settled. When he is at his best, Carrick also does well to swing the ball around so that his side can pick the best angles to break down a bunkered defense. If United dominate possession but struggle to break down a deep-defending Newcastle, the deepest-lying midfielder will need to dictate play by intelligently choosing the points of attack and the tempo at which to do it.
Kick-off: 3:00pm (GMT), 10:00am (EST) -- Old Trafford
Odds: Manchester United 2/5, Draw 4/1, Newcastle 10/1
Prediction: Manchester United 1-0 Newcastle United
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