Manchester United will be looking to consolidate their lead at the top of the English Premier League when they travel to Newcastle on Tuesday.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will be eager to redeem their 1-0 loss in the FA Cup semi-finals to bitter rivals Manchester City on Saturday, which ended their hopes of capturing their first treble since 1999.
The Red Devils will be facing the Magpies for the first time since they claimed a 3-0 victory on the season’s opening day.
Midfielder Paul Scholes is serving a three-match ban for his reckless challenge against City, but Manchester United will be buoyed by the return of the mercurial Wayne Rooney from a two-game FA suspension at St James’ Park.
Ferguson has plenty of attacking options, with Portuguese winger Nani, league-leading goal scorer Dimitar Berbatov and Mexican marvel Javier Hernandez all available and enjoying fine spells of form.
Manchester United manager Ferguson underlined the importance of the clash with Newcastle, despite second-placed Arsenal dropping two points against Liverpool on Sunday.
“For me Newcastle is the important one,” he said.
“After Newcastle away and then Everton at home there are only four league games left. Then we go to Arsenal the following week.”
“Newcastle is a crucial game. We’ve had some fantastic and high-scoring games up there, and we’ve had some great results.”
The Magpies lost their previous league match to struggling Aston Villa 1-0 and have won only one of their last five domestic encounters in what has been a barren 2011 so far.
But having had the weekend off, Alan Pardew’s men will be hopeful the break will tip proceedings in their favour against a Manchester United side which had its ego dented on Saturday and is also dealing with the rigours of the Champions League.
They will, however, be without influential skipper Kevin Nolan, who is serving a ban for picking up his tenth yellow card of the season.
Striker Shola Ameobi is also unlikely to feature, but on-loan Stephen Ireland – targeting a permanent deal or loan extension at Newcastle – is expected to be in the mix after making a full recovery from injury.
Newcastle’s home form has been dismal this season, having won only five of their 16 games so far.
The Geordies are relatively safe from the prospect of dropping back into the Championship at the first time of asking, but will be wary of a late-season slip-up, given they are sitting just six points off the relegation zone.
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