Javier Hernandez has been critical for United this season. Image courtesy of skysports.com
To say Newcastle United desperately needed a win against Queen’s Park Rangers at the weekend is an understatement. The Magpies had lost six of their previous seven, and with a super tough schedule over the festive season, Alan Pardew’s men had to take the three points to stay clear of the relegation zone, and they did so thanks to Shola Ameobi slotting home an 81st-minute winner to snatch a 1-0 win.
The Geordies go from one end of the spectrum to the other on Boxing Day, tackling a red-hot Manchester United team which has cleared out in first place, despite having its five-game winning streak brought to an end when held 1-1 by Swansea City at Liberty Stadium. Robin van Persie was struck in the back of the head by the ball in an ugly incident after a whistle had gone late in the match and Swansea defender Ashley Williams teed off in frustration, but despite the initial shock, the Dutchman was able to continue and should be ok to take on Newcastle.
Pardew is likely to have a few key men unavailable, with winger Hatem Ben Arfa and central defender Steven Taylor (both hamstring) and midfielder Yohan Cabaye (groin) all missing the win over QPR. At least Newcastle’s defence held firm for just its third clean sheet this season, but they’ll have to be wary of United’s prowess from corners on Thursday morning (AEDT) – Patrice Evra’s goal against the Swans was the Red Devils’ tenth from a corner this season, which is more than any other EPL team.
Six Alex Ferguson has promised to rotate his squad throughout the Christmas/New Year period, although he still has Nani, Rafael and Shinji Kagawa all on the sidelines. Inspirational defender Nemanja Vidic made his return the week before against Sunderland and was effective against Swansea.
Prior to the 3-0 defeat earlier this season, Newcastle had gone three games without going down to United, including a 3-0 thumping of Ferguson’s side at St James’s Park in January. The Red Devils stalemate at Swansea was their first draw of the season.
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