Manchester United and Newcastle United will battle for position atop the English Premier League table when they meet at Old Trafford on Saturday. Sir Alex Ferguson's Red Devils have shown better form on defence since their shocking 6-1 defeat to "the noisy neighbors," Manchester City, back in October.
The Magpies, meanwhile, have been the biggest surprise in the league thus far, hanging tough in the top four despite a relatively small payroll, thanks in large part to the machinations of manager Alan Pardew. The Toon suffered their first defeat of the season against Man City on Saturday, 3-1.
The onus here will be on Newcastle to come away with points of some sort, lest they fall back into the fiercely competitive pack of free spenders laying in wait behind them.
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England.
When: Saturday, November 26th at 10:00 a.m. EST
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Live Stream: ESPN3.com, Sport.TV
Player to Watch for Manchester United: Wayne Rooney
Wazza has struggled, both mentally and physically, since his now-infamous booking back in October while playing for England in Euro 2012 qualifying. Rooney suffered another knock in a collision with Swansea goalkeeper Michael Vorm this past Saturday, but despite missing training time, is expected to play in a midweek Champions League match against Benfica. The Red Devils could certainly use Rooney's scoring prowess against Newcastle, especially with the way their attack has stagnated of late.
Player to Watch for Newcastle United: Demba Ba
Demba Ba has emerged as one of the most exciting players in the EPL this season, and not simply because his name is fun to say.
Though that certainly doesn't hurt.
The Senegalese striker has notched eight goals for the Magpies in his first season at St. James' Park after leaving West Ham United. He's already notched two hat tricks on the campaign—against Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City—and figures to give Man U's injury-riddled back line fits throughout.
Key Matchup: United's forwards vs. NUFC's rearguard
Fergie's side has struggled to put through the net since their fearless start to the season, due in large part to recurring knocks suffered by starlets Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley. A match against Newcastle may be a welcome cure to the Red Devils' offensive woes, as the Magpies have given up three or more goals on three occasions in their last seven EPL fixtures.
Even with all the setbacks, Man U still have plenty of attacking talent—between Rooney, Chicharito and Dimitar Berbatov—to send the Toon to another defeat in Manchester.
What They're Saying:
Man U midfielder Michael Carrick has advised those critical of the squad's poor play of late to withhold judgment until next month, telling The Telegraph after the Red Devils' 1-0 win over Swansea City:
"We were not at our best and the football wasn’t as fluent or easy on the eye as it could have been. But we are happy to have won and to have got the three points. At this stage of the season it’s about picking up points. It’s about grafting, sticking together and showing a lot of character. Judge where we are by Christmas and we’ll kick on from there."
United have won their last three league matches since their embarrassing 6-1 result in the Manchester derby, though all by a slender 1-0 margin against lower-tier opponents.
On the other side, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has issued a warning to those big-money clubs who would seek to poach the top players from his side: they won't come cheap. Said Pardew to The Sunday Mirror:
"It is going to cost a hell of a lot of money, a hell of a lot of money because we're in that position now. I think any of our players that get linked to other clubs, those clubs are going to need to know they'll need to pay a shed load of money to get anyone out of this football club."
Prediction: Manchester United 1, Newcastle United 0
United have won their last three matches 1-0 and will put their new defence-first approach to good use against the Magpies to give the city of Manchester a clean sweep of Newcastle upon Tyne.