Manchester United travel to the north-east on Sunday to face Newcastle United in a Premier League contest. These two sides have met once already in this young season during a Capital One Cup clash just over a week ago. During that match at Old Trafford, the Red Devils -- who fielded a back four with the combined age of just 84-years-old alongside a relatively experienced midfield and attack -- defeated a Newcastle side that was far from first-choice. Last season, these two sides met twice in league games -- this same fixture in January resulted in the Magpies completely overrunning United in midfield during a 0-3 defeat for Sir Alex Ferguson's side and in the reverse fixture, Alan Pardew's side was able to earn a 1-1 draw at the 'Theatre of Dreams'.
Form Guide: United enter the weekend sitting third in the Premier League table with twelve points from six matches. The most recent match for the club was during the midweek when they traveled to Romania and defeated CFR Cluj 2-1 in a UEFA Champions League tie. Thus far, the Red Devils have a perfect record in Europe after two matches. The most recent league match occurred last weekend when Tottenham Hotspur defeated United 3-2 at Old Trafford.
Team News: Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Ashley Young have been ruled out for Sunday's contest. Antonio Valencia is a doubt as well but Jonny Evans is expected to be available despite ailing from a 'dead leg' this past week. Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs did not travel to Romania but each of these midfielder is available for selection for Newcastle. (Full Team News Report)
Form Guide: Newcastle come into the weekend sitting tenth in the Premier League table with nine points from six matches. Their most recent tie came on Thursday when Pardew's side defeated French side Bordeaux 3-0 in a Europa League match. The past weekend saw the Magpies draw 2-2 in a league contest.
Team News: Goalkeepers Tim Krul and Rob Elliot are out as is Ryan Taylor. Defenders Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini are doubts but Danny Simpson is expected to be available after returning from injury during the recent Bordeaux match.
MUFC: There will be four days of rest since the most recent contest when Sunday arrives and with the October international break coming up, the need for rotation will be less than usual for Fergie. Therefore, the gaffer should have a plethora of choices -- with center-back being the exception.
In goal, Fergie has been rotating between Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea and it's anybody's guess as to which player will feature. In central-defense, Evans and Rio Ferdinand are the only two established first-team choices and if the former can't play due to his 'dead leg' issue, then expect youngster Scott Wootton to deputise. Patrice Evra is probable at left-back while Alexander Buttner is possible and on the opposite side, Rafael is the clear first-choice at right-back.
Fergie will decide between using two deeper central-midfielders in a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 system or three deeper central-midfielders in a midfield diamond. No matter what shape is used, the most likely candidates to start in the center of the park appear to be Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Tom Cleverley and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, Darren Fletcher and Anderson.
In attack, if Valencia is indeed out and if wingers are used, then Nani is probable on the right while Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck, and Ryan Giggs are in contention on the left. Up front, Robin van Persie is anticipated as the lead striker and either Kagawa or Rooney is likely to play in behind him.
NUFC: Injuries to Krul and Elliot clear the way for Steve Harper to start in goal. In defense, the injuries to Taylor and Coloccini likely means that James Perch slides inside to partner Michael Williamson in central-defense. With Perch probably sliding inside, that leaves right-back open for the returning Simpson. At left-back, Davide Santon is first-choice.
Pardew is perfectly comfortable playing in either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 shape and the versatility of some of his midfielders and attackers allows him to shift between the two during matches. In addition, he's even deployed Newcastle in a 4-2-3-1 at times. Though neither is in peak form at the moment, the duo of Chiek Tiote and Yohan Cabaye is likely in central-midfield -- although Vurnon Anita could be preferred to either one. In a 4-3-3, Jonas Gutierrez tucks into the midfield and in a 4-4-2, he plays narrowly as a left-sided midfielder. On the right, Hatem Ben Arfa will drift inside between the lines. Up front, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse are likely and either can be featured as a wide forward if need be in a 4-3-3.
* 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 for Newcastle? Or both?: It's very possible that Pardew deploys his side in a 4-4-2 to start the match -- especially if he strongly anticipates Fergie to deploy United in a 4-4-1-1ish shape. From here, he could use Ba and Cisse to occupy both of United's center-backs and there would be a lack of a spare man in the back for the away side -- this could be further concerning if Wootton makes his first Premier League start as this could further stress a back four that has been vulnerable as of late. The risk with this, of course, is the possibility of being overrun in the midfield. However, with the way Tiote and Cabaye dominated United in the center of the park last season, Pardew may feel that he can still control the midfield battle or stay competitive there at the very least. If Newcastle are overrun though in this possible scenario, Pardew has the luxury of knowing that his side can switch into a 4-3-3 without having to make a substitution. Gutierrez would simply tuck inside more to make a midfield trio while Ba likely would shift from the from the middle to a wide left-sided forward.
* Hatem Ben Arfa's role and positioning: A key player in this match could be Ben Arfa. Similar to when Juan Mata is deployed out wide for Chelsea or when David Silva or Samir Nasri are deployed out wide for Manchester City, the Newcastle playmaker will look to drift inside from an initial wide position in search of space to create from. His role remains the same in either formation the Magpies typically play in. While he's obviously a talented and dangerous player, and United will certainly need to make sure his drifts inside are tracked, this also often exposes his full-back when possession is lost. Evra, who already enjoys going forward -- perhaps too much now when one considers his propensity to being caught out -- will have the opportunity to get forward and create overloads on the left flank. If United can find a way to contain Ben Arfa, then this flank might the one they can look to gain an advantage from when they attack.
* 4-4-1-1 or midfield diamond for MUFC?: It's very possible that Fergie elects to deploy his side in a midfield diamond, a system he's used twice in recent weeks. This could possibly allow his side to better control the midfield battle and this is surely a concern after the way Newcastle overran United last season. The away side would have a better defensive shape and this would essentially dare the home side's full-backs to get forward into open space and create chances. This would also likely take away the option for Pardew to play in a 4-4-2 because his side would likely be completely overrun.
It seems more likely though that United will be deployed in a 4-4-1-1 -- with Kagawa possibly coming inside from the left, Rooney in behind van Persie, and Nani establishing width on the right flank. This front four had terrific movement together in the second-half versus Spurs and it would be very interesting to see these players deployed in these roles from the start of a game.
KO: 4:00pm BST, 11:00am EST | Sports Direct Arena
Live TV: Sky Sports (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.A.)
Referee: Howard Webb
Odds: Newcastle United 13/5, Draw 13/5, Manchester United 19/20