St. James’ Park, Newcastle
April 20, 2011; 12:15 A.M. IST – Live on ESPN

After the demoralizing defeat to neighbors Man City in the F.A. Cup semi-final at Wembley, Manchester United must quickly regain their composure as they travel to St. James Park to face Newcastle United. A duel that once occupied top billing in English football hierarchy has now lost much of its fervor; however, Sir Alex’s United side would do well to know that the three valuable points on offer are worth their weight in gold.

The Newcastle sides of years gone by have always put their best foot forward against the traditionally bigger clubs, and this time it’s no different, as none of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea could come away with maximum points from St. James’ Park.  Still the biggest challenge for manager Alan Pardew would be to keep his troops motivated, as they are seemingly clear of the drop zone and also not in with a chance of European football. Fergie’s men however should lack anything but motivation, as this could yet be a season defining clash.

Newcastle United have struggled in the past few weeks, winning just one of their last five games; the sole victory coming against lowly Wolves. The dip in form has left the Magpies just six points off the drop zone, and hence, manager Alan Pardew would be more than keen to stop the free fall. However, with league leaders Manchester United up next, Pardew’s men would have to play out of their skins to capture all three points.

United’s league aspirations gained further boost at the weekend, where ironically Sir Alex’s men weren’t even involved in league action. Arsene Wenger’s Gunners misfired against Liverpool at home, and now have a mountain to climb if they are to stop United winning their record-breaking 19th league title. However, Fergsuon’s men suffered a reversal themselves, as they were eliminated from the F.A Cup by Mancester City, of all teams. Despite the heart-breaking loss, the league leaders should come out all guns blazing, as the game provides them an opportunity to carve out a nine-point lead at the top, especially with the Gunners facing a daunting trip to White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

Team news and Tactical Brief

Newcastle United

The Barcodes have been hampered by injuries and suspensions of late. Inspirational captain Kevin Nolan will sit this one out, as he is serving a two-game ban for picking up ten yellow cards over the course of the campaign. Further headache for Pardew would be the lack of options upfront. Best is surely out, whereas Shola Ameobi is also a major doubt for the game. Youngsters Nile Ranger and Lovekrands would be again looked upon to provide the cutting edge, although they might find Vidic and co. too hot handle. A glimmer of hope for the Geordie faithful would be the return of their midfield lynchpin, Check Tiote. The Ivorian has been a major success story in his debut Barclays Premier League season and would certainly add steel to Newcastle’s midfield. Further absentees include Ben Arfa, Alan Smith and Dan Gosling, who have all been out for considerable parts of the campaign.

Newcastle would look to play with high energy and tempo, driven forward by the vociferous St. James Park crowd. Jonas Guttierez would be the man Sir Alex’s United side will have to stop to cut off any supply for Newcastle’s young forwards. Guttierez down the left flank will be all pace and skill, while the maverick Joey Barton down the right will utilize his experience to put in dangerous crosses to terrorize the United back four. The midfield pairing of Tiote-Guthrie would look to keep things tight and keep feeding balls to the wide players. Peter Lovekrands provides the long ball option for Pardew if Newcastle need to throw caution to the wind.  Also present as an attacking option for Newcastle is the fit-again Stephen Ireland; the midfield maestro hasn’t had the best of the season, first at Villa and now at the Toon.

Probable Starting XI: Harper, Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson, Enrique, Barton, Tiote, Guthrie, Gutierrrez, Lovenkrands, Ranger

football formations

Manchester United

Sir Alex was quoted saying the team against Newcastle would be a strong one, as there is hardly any room for error. Paul Scholes will be suspended, as he was given his marching orders in the defeat to City. Darren Fletcher is still a couple of weeks away from first team action, while Hargreaves’s absence is no more a surprise. Rafael is still out with injury, and with John O’ Shea having a bad game on Saturday, Sir Alex could turn to Fabio who did a more than decent job at Upton Park. United’s young Mexican star Chicharito would also be looking at a starting role, after quite strangely being left on the bench in the cup defeat. Wayne Rooney would start alongside him, having served his two game suspension for his foul mouthed rant. United’s Brazilian midfield sensation Anderson might finally get the nod to partner Michael Carrick at the heart of United’s midfield.

United will definitely have a go at the Newcastle backline, and all eyes will yet again be on the Rooney-Hernandez combo upfront, as they seem to have developed a wonderful partnership. Luis Nani and Antonio Valencia will look to bomb forward at every given opportunity and provide service to the two in-form strikers. Nani’s from has been a major highlight of United’s season; the Portuguese has been in a revelation and contributed to 27 of United’s league goals. Carrick will look to shield the back four and also provide creativity from deeper position; the Englishman has been doing a swell job, guarding the United back four with some assured performances. If given the chance, Anderson will be trusted to make surging runs from midfield and link up play with the front two. The Brazilian has to come to the party now to stake a claim, and this is could yet be his best chance. Captain Nemaja Vidic might be partnered by the reliable deputy in Chris Smalling, if Sir Alex decides to rest Rio Ferdinand for the battles ahead.

Probable Starting XI: Van Der Sar, Fabio, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Hernandez, Rooney


Joey Barton (Newcastle United)

The self-proclaimed best English midfielder has been in very good form for the Magpies, showcasing his talents that collected a lot of praise when he was at Man City. With Tiote back for the home side, Barton would have more freedom to express himself and cause trouble for Manchester United.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Newcastle United 1-2 Manchester United

It would be an entertaining game, as always, between the two sides. But the quality of Man United should be enough to see the Magpies off and help them take a strong step towards a record 19th league title.