MATCH PREVIEW: Newcastle United vs. Manchester United

Will Ryan Giggs be fit enough to feature?

These are coming fast -- another league match has already arrived. Manchester United travel to the North East for a Wednesday night Premier League tie with Newcastle United at Sports Direct Arena. This is the first match of the latter half of the season and during the reverse fixture just five weeks ago, Demba Ba equalised from a penalty that was controversially awarded in the 64th minute. United certainly had their chances for a winner afterward but a combination of poor finishing, bad luck, brave defending, and superb goalkeeping denied the home side two points.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Form Guide: United enter the match trailing leaders Manchester City by three points but the champions have a game in hand after City's 3-0 defeat of Liverpool on Tuesday. However, unless United win by 8 goals or more versus Newcastle, the 'noisy neighbours' will have a goal differential advantage -- even if all three points are earned. The past weekend saw the Reds disastrously defeated by then bottom-of-the-table Blackburn Rovers. Prior to that, Sir Alex Ferguson's side had shown tremendous form -- the club had gone 9 successive league matches unbeaten with 8 of those being victories. On Saturday, United will face City in a Round 3 FA Cup tie at the Etihad Stadium.

Team News: Oh boy. All of Jonny Evans, Ashley Young, Darren Fletcher, Nemanja Vidic, Fabio, Michael Owen, and Tom Cleverley are unavailable due to either injury or illness. In addition, Chris Smalling is considered a doubt as well due to tonsillitis. Wayne Rooney is available after being dropped for Blackburn due to disciplinary reasons while both Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand are hopeful to return from their recent knocks. (Full Team News Report)

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Form Guide: The Magpies currently sit 7th in the table and they have impressively taken a 30 point haul from the season's first-half. Relegation is not likely to be a worry for the club this season and perhaps a surprise campaign for a European spot is in the cards. However, recent form shows a trend that makes this ambition appear unlikely for the moment. This past weekend saw Newcastle defeated 3-1 at Anfield by Liverpool FC and during the club's 6 league fixtures in December, they only earned a total of 7 points.

Team News: To be fair in regards to Newcastle's form, injuries ravaged their club as well during the holidays. For the upcoming fixture, Danny Guthrie, Sylvain Marveaux, and Steven Taylor are all unavailable while Peter Lovenkrands is also a doubt. Old United boy Gabriel Obertan has a toe knock but he is expected to be available for selection.

PROJECTING LINEUPS

MUFC: The availability of Giggs, and especially Ferdinand, has big ramifications on the entire lineup. If Ferdinand is fit to start, he likely partners Phil Jones at center-back. If he is not deemed fit, or only fit enough for the bench, then Michael Carrick likely drops back from midfield and into central-defense. If Smalling is a surprise inclusion, then he is possible at either center-back or right-back. For now, either Rafael or Antonio Valencia appear likely at right-back while Patrice Evra is an automatic selection for left-back. If Carrick is free to feature in midfield, then he could be partnered by a possibly fit Giggs. The likes of Jones, Park Ji-sung, Darron Gibson, Anderson, and Wayne Rooney are also possible for roles in the center of the park. Out wide, Nani is nearly certain to start and on the opposite flank, expect to see either Valencia or Park. Up front, Rooney likely features and he could be partnered by either the in-form Dimitar Berbatov, Danny Welbeck, or Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). Fergie stated last week that David de Gea would start both the Blackurn and Newcastle matches, but Anders Lindegaard is certainly possible.

NUFC: For Newcastle, the selection choices are much simpler. In goal, expect the in-form No. 1 Tim Krul while the current first-choice center-back pairing is Fabricio Coloccini and Michael Williamson. Danny Simpson is first-choice at right-back and either Ryan Taylor or Davide Santon will be selected at left-back. Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye are the central-midfield duo and expect them to be flanked by Jonas Gutierrez on the left. Obertan has generally been first-choice this season on the right but Sammy Ameobi has emerged as a strong candidate to replace him for this match. Demba Ba and Leon Best are the anticipated striker tandem.

TACTICAL KEYS

* MUFC's left-sided attack vs. NUFC's right-sided defense: In our Q&A exchange with Coming Home Newcastle -- a Magpie fansite -- they suggested that Newcastle's right-side of defense may be the best avenue of attack for opponents. Steven Taylor's injury has been a tremendous blow to Newcastle's defense as his solid-defending was accompanied by his sound positioning -- this often allowed him to cover for a vulnerable Simpson. Nani, who has been unplayable at times in the past month or so, may be deployed on this side to exploit this potential matchup against Simpson. In addition, the in-form Berbatov (6 goals in his past 3 games) tends to drop deep into and into a left-central position. Both Nani and Berbatov may be deployed in this space -- and possibly with either Giggs or Rooney in a left-sided central role -- so that these dangerous attackers can wreak havoc.

* Contain that man, Demba Ba: Much has been made of Robin van Persie's incredible form this season and his 17 goals -- and deservedly so -- but has enough been made of Ba's 14 league goals? That's good for 2nd in the Prem right now. Another surprisingly standout striker this season -- Yakabu -- gave Carrick and Jones fits at the weekend, albeit in a different fashion than the way Ba plays. Nonetheless, a Rio return could prove to be vital so that we could possibly have a natural center-back pairing against such a dangerous striker at the moment. A Carrick-Jones pairing may result in a nervous 90 minutes for United fans.

* What general tactical approach will Newcastle take?: During the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew sprung a slight surprise by deploying a high line. The result was an open affair in the early going. Newcastle were in better form then and had the solid duo of S.Taylor and Coloccini at the back so it appears unlikely that they will do this again to start the match. But then again, who knows since they used this tactic away to Old Trafford so they could be brave enough to do it again at home. Coloccini appeared a bit vulnerable to pace though in that match when the high line was used. What general tactical approach will Pardew take? Will he defend deep and look to hit on the counter? Will he look to aggressively press United with a high line in hopes of disrupting a possible depleted side? Watch how high or deep their back line plays and how aggressively they close down United's defenders and deep midfielders early in the match -- that'll hint strongly at Pardew's intentions.

KO: Wednesday 8:00pm GMT, 3:00pm EST | St James Park Sports Direct Arena

Live TV: Sky Sports (U.K.), Fox Soccer (U.S.)

SBN Newcastle: Coming Home Newcastle | pre-match Q&A

Referee: Howard Webb

Odds: Newcastle 4/1, Draw 13/5, Manchester United 8/11

TBB Prediction: Newcastle 1-2 Manchester United

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