Manchester United face their toughest match of the English Premier League season so far when they take on Newcastle United at St. James' Park this Sunday.
The Red Devils have already recorded losses against Everton and Tottenham Hotspur—both of whom are very good sides—but the trip up north to Newcastle is one of the more daunting prospects in the season and historically, one of the hardest venues to get a result at.
Currently sitting in sixth place with 12 points, United know that anything but a win here would start to create some serious distance between themselves and their title opponents this season, with Manchester City now three points clear of the Red Devils and Chelsea an incredible seven points clear on top of the table.
Throw in the fact that the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are all playing quality football as well, the Red Devils simply cannot afford to drop points to their opponents and give them a head start for the season ahead.
To do that, however, United will need to win against Newcastle and they'll need to play their best football if they are to walk away with the three points.
Let's take a look at the players who must step up for the Red Devils if they are to get a good result against Newcastle United in the Premier League this weekend.
The Danish international appears set to receive the No. 1 goalkeeper position for this match ahead of David De Gea, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson set to continue his rotation policy between the two shot-stoppers.
Lindegaard has been strong through the season so far without being spectacular—something that he'll need to be against an attack featuring the likes of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa.
The Red Devils have only had one match this season that was won or lost by more than one goal. This means that one world-class save or one world-class blunder could be the difference between victory and defeat in this one.
With the long-term injuries to Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand has a mountain of responsibility and expectation on him in central defense for the Red Devils.
The England international brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the back line, which is bound to help the younger players like Rafael da Silva, Jonny Evans and Scott Wootton remain composed and calm throughout the match.
Ferdinand currently leads the team in interceptions and clearances per game, and his ability to break down the Magpies' attack and feed the ball to his wingers and midfielders ahead of him effectively could key in this fixture.
There's a lot of pressure on Ferdinand in this one, and it will be interesting to see how the 33-year-old handles the additional responsibilities.
After struggling somewhat in both attack and defense through the season so far for Manchester United, Nani simply must step up against the Magpies in this one and give United the attacking flair down the wings they need to succeed.
Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are both likely to miss the match due to injury—leaving Nani as the sole winger in the starting lineup and with all the responsibility and pressure on him to perform for the Red Devils.
Having said that, Nani is a big-game player and will relish the opportunity to prove himself in the absence of both Young and Valencia.
Whether or not he can turn that desire into an efficient, strong performance for United against the classy Newcastle midfield still remains to be seen.
Who do you think has to step up vs. Newcastle United?
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