Preview: Newcastle United vs Manchester United

By at 7:31 pm 06/10/2012

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Manchester United have always been known to thrive under pressure. It’s something that we had to do throughout last season, as local rivals Manchester City were often seemed to be running away with the title, or chasing us furiously. This ability to not only cope but thrive under pressure has been the catalyst in our success in recent years. It will be needed once again tomorrow, as we take on a talented Newcastle United side at the Sports Direct Arena.

That in itself is a mammoth task, without title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City both taking three points the day before. City, who look to be steadily improving at the back, comfortably beat Sunderland 3-0, whilst European champions Chelsea enjoyed a 4-1 win over Norwich. It is now up to us to respond, and regain our goal difference lead over Manchester City.

Following the disastrous display against Tottenham last weekend, we looked to get back on track away in Romania with a 2-1 win over FC Cluj. It was a close game, with very few chances. Our midfield three of Anderson, Cleverley and Fletcher worked wonderfully together, and prevented us from getting overrun in the centre of the park.

The 4-3-3 formation used on Tuesday proved popular among fans, and is being called for on Sunday. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie also showed a fantastic understanding, with Rooney providing assists for both of van Persie’s goals. This of course bodes well for Sunday, with both players all but guaranteed to start. The problems again lie with the defence, as Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra both had a dire night against Cluj. Evra particularly looked tired and off the pace, leading to Cluj’s goal.

Our record at the Sports Direct Arena in recent years is promising to say the least, until last season. It was a terrible performance all round in January, where Manchester United went down 3-0, with goals from Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and an own goal from Phil Jones. Another performance like that, and our title challenge could be over before it has even started.

That may seem like an exaggeration but it isn’t. A loss tomorrow would take our tally to three, just two less than the whole of last season. It’s a worrying statistic but it’s one that can be prevented with a win tomorrow. Of course, Newcastle’s fantastic home form and our lack of fit centre-backs mean that it is all set up for Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse to have a field day. It will take the resilience and courage shown at Anfield a fortnight ago to get the three points, and it is up to the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Rio Ferdinand to perform when it really matters again.

The Manchester United injury list is shortening by the week, with Antonio Valencia back in training following an injury which kept him out of the loss to Tottenham and win over Cluj in midweek. Jonny Evans has also recovered from a dead leg suffered in Romania to make the squad for the trip to Newcastle. One surprise inclusion could be a certain Chris Smalling, however, as reported during the week. Several papers have reported that Smalling could be set to return on Sunday, albeit from the bench. He’s been out for several weeks following a broken foot. Here’s my preferred starting eleven for Sunday.

Onto my prediction for the game. I am forever the optimist when it comes to Manchester United, but tomorrow, I can only see a struggle. It’ll be a minor miracle if United travel bag to Manchester with all three points, considering our ongoing defensive worries and poor form in the league. Therefore, I am going to go for a 1-1 draw, with a goal from Robin van Persie.

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