Newcastle United will host Manchester United Sunday in the weekend's marquee Premier League matchup. Last time these two teams met, Manchester United defeated Newcastle 2-1 at Old Trafford in the 3rd round of the Football League Cup just over a week ago.
1. Both Teams Regaining Health?
Tim Krul is still out with an elbow injury, and Rob Elliot's groin troubles necessitate a bench appearance from 19 year-old Jak Alnwick, but aside from that, all of Newcastle's short-term injuries should be healed or close to it. Fabricio Coloccini, Cheik Tiote, and Danny Simpson have all made recent cup appearances and are reportedly available for selection.
The Red Devils are not quite as fortunate, but they will return some of their midfielders, as Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, and Ryan Giggs will all be available. They will wait on the health of center back Jonny Evans, who has been battling what Sir Alex Ferguson characterized as a "dead leg." If Evans cannot go, Scott Wootton may get the call. You may remember Wootton as the guy that Papiss Cisse took advantage of last week when he almost brought the team back from a two goal deficit on his own.
2. 4-3-3 or 4-4-2?
Manchester's triangle midfield (see the link below) makes them weak on the wings, and more specifically, they are vulnerable to aggressive wing back play. Davide Santon and Danny Simpson seem the likely starters there, and though Santon hasn't distinguished himself very well this year, Simpson has shown plenty of willingness against his former team in the past. I want to suggest that Alan Pardew should consider supporting them by playing his traditional 4-4-2 system, even though the 4-3-3 seemed to turn the trick against Bordeaux on Wednesday. Newcastle's crossing has improved lately, regardless of formation. Perhaps a barrage of crosses from the wing to try to exploit young Wootton is in order. What I would roll it if I were in charge:
Harper | Simpson, STaylor, Coloccini, Santon | Ben Arfa, Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas | Ba, Cisse
It's pretty much a first choice lineup (save Harper) and, perhaps most importantly, it puts both strikers in a position to succeed. They'll both be playing more centrally and putting pressure on the second-choice center back.
3. Tiote vs. Rooney
Playing the 4-4-2 cedes some control in the middle of the pitch, which is why Cheik Tiote is so important to this team. His ability to close down mitigates this disadvantage somewhat, freeing up the wingers to play aggressively. The idea here is to keep the Red Devils from coming down the center of the pitch, something they'll try to do through Wayne Rooney, who may or may not be playing some kind of trequartista role behind Chicharito and Robin Van Persie (via The Busby Babe). Tiote will need to play his aggressive game while staying under control, a tough balancing act to be sure. In the video OSotP linked earlier this week (from Newcastle's 3-0 victory over Manchester in January), Mr. T walks this line brilliantly. As much stick as Howard Webb gets for favoring Man Utd, he does tend to let players like Tiote play. A repeat performance will go a long way toward keeping the Manchester attack in check, and it will allow Newcastle to play with width.
Prediction: 2-1 to Newcastle, with Ba, Cisse, and Van Persie scoring. Newcastle are simply healthier right now, and Alan Pardew loves to bring his A-game when playing his friend SAF. I will love it if this happens.