Newcastle United v Manchester United
Just 72 hours after Saturday’s defeat to Manchester City, United are back in action against Newcastle at St. James’ Park.
At this stage of the season the games are coming thick and fast and United will be grateful for that as it gives them the perfect chance to respond to the weekend’s FA Cup Semi-Final defeat. Tonight’s clash is the first of a potential nine games between now and the end of the season that could see United win a second League and Champions League double in three years.
The weekend had a much brighter than anticipated ending for United, when Liverpool managed to draw away at Arsenal after Dirk Kuyt’s penalty in the 12th minute of stoppage time. Arsenal had taken the lead through a Robin van Persie spot-kick in the 98th minute before Emmanuel Eboue’s moment of stupidity saw him penalised for a push on Lucas Leiva.
The draw means that United are six points clear of Arsenal with both teams having played 32 games. Tonight’s encounter in Newcastle gives The Reds a chance to extend the lead at the top to nine points and put real pressure on Arsenal, who are away to Tottenham tomorrow night. The whole team knows that there’s no time for a hangover from Saturday’s defeat if they’re to end the season with a record 19th title.
Wayne Rooney will be back in action after his two-game suspension for saying a naughty word at a camera, against a team he’s had a lot of joy against since he’s been a United player. In twelve appearances against The Magpies, Rooney has scored nine times – six of those goals have come at St. James’ Park in just five appearances.
Jonny Evans will also be back after his suspension, while Paul Scholes starts his three-match ban following his red-card at the weekend. Scholes’ absence could see Anderson start for only the second time since February. The Brazilian midfielder is one of the only United players to give a good account for themselves at the weekend, and his midfield-drive will be an asset against a combative Newcastle outfit.
Chris Smalling is expected to come into the team in place of Rio Ferdinand, while Javier Hernandez is likely to replace Dimitar Berbatov. Rooney’s return will most likely come at the expense of Park Ji-Sung, as he and Chicharito look to continue establishing their blossoming strike-partnership.
United haven’t lost against Newcastle since a 4-3 defeat at St. James’ Park in September 2001, but three-points is no guarantee against a team who’ve had a peculiar time since returning to the Premier League after 2009’s relegation. They find themselves just six points above the relegation zone, but in 10th position and have picked up impressive points against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Former Manchester City midfielder Steven Ireland is set to make his Newcastle debut after injury has plagued his January loan move from Aston Villa. Shola Ameobi could return to the team following a knee injury, but skipper and top-scorer Kevin Nolan misses out through suspension.
Unpredictable Newcastle will be looking to take full advantage of any perceived fragility in the United team, who – before Saturday’s defeat, were on a seven-game winning streak. The Reds however have been here before and know that there’s no better way to respond to a competition exit than taking a step closer to success in another.
Referee: Lee Probert
Last five meetings:
16/08/10 – United 3-0 Newcastle
04/03/09 – Newcastle 1-2 United
17/08/08 – United 1-1 Newcastle
23/02/08 – Newcastle 1-5 United
12/01/08 – United 6-0 Newcastle
1. van der Sar; 22. O’Shea, 12. Smalling, 15. Vidic, 3. Evra; 25. Valencia, 16. Carrick, 8. Anderson, 17. Nani; 10. Rooney, 14. Hernandez.