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Will United Bounce Back From Derby Defeat With Newcastle Win?

Were I a more bitter and short-sighted person, I’d point a finger at the FA for being responsible for United’s FA Cup semifinal defeat to City, given that an available and in-form Wayne Rooney could have greatly changed the outcome of the proceedings.

But that’d just be silly, so I’m not going to go there. Sometimes it’s just not your day, and unfortunately for United, they picked a bad time for it to not be their day.

It was nice to have the treble within realistic reach at this point in the season, but there is still plenty to look forward to, and on that note, United’s title hopes were aided on the weekend by, of all teams, Liverpool (with an assist from Emmanuel Eboue), whose 1-1 draw at Arsenal means that the Gunners are six points back of United with six matches left after being seconds away from trimming the deficit to four.

You never like to count your chickens before they hatch, but if this week goes as well as it could, we could be in position to clinch the Premier League title at the Emirates on May 1. Arsenal face a tough trip tomorrow to Champions League-chasing Tottenham, who scored a comeback win at the Emirates earlier this season, and that’s followed up with a Sunday visit to Bolton, who have played very well at home this season and are still in the hunt for a top-six place (which may or may not secure a Europa League place).

Of course, United have plenty of work to do themselves to make that a possibility, and first up is tonight’s visit to Newcastle, who are looking to consolidate their place in the top flight for next season.

The December sacking of Chris Hughton and the installation of Alan Pardew as manager hasn’t perhaps produced the results that Mike Ashley (wasn’t he supposed to have sold the club about 15 times by now?) might have envisioned (if he envisioned anything at all), but the Magpies are well-positioned to stay up heading into the home stretch. After this past weekend’s results, Newcastle lie in 10th, six points clear of the drop zone and holding a positive goal difference with six matches left.

For all of their inconsistencies this season, Newcastle have shown the ability to score some impressive results, with an away win and a home draw against Arsenal, a home draw against Chelsea, a home draw against Tottenham, and an away win at Chelsea in the Carling Cup. And when they’re on, they can score in bunches, having scored four or more goals at home five times this season. That includes a stunning second-half comeback from 4-0 down against Arsenal in a 4-4 draw on February 5, which softened the blow and impact of United’s away defeat to Wolves that day.

So, tonight’s game could certainly be a tricky one, if the right Newcastle side elect to show up. If the wrong one does, United could well have a win that was as comortable as the 3-0 win at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season.

Dimitar Berbatov scored United’s first league goal of the season to get the ball rolling in that win, and he’s gone on to score 20 more Premier League goals since then, but it’d be a surprise to see him starting up front tonight at St. James’ Park, with Rooney returning from suspension and Javier Hernandez likely to start after only appearing as a substitute on Saturday.

Hard on Berbatov as it might be (as much of a trooper and team player he’s been, to his credit), the Rooney-Chichiarito pairing is the way to go right now, with Rooney having scored seven goals in his last nine appearances and Chicharito with seven in his last 10.

With the form that dangerous duo is in right now, Nani the assist machine to create opportunity upon opportunity, and Antonio Valencia well and truly back in the swing of things at the right time, it’s tough to see Newcastle’s defense being able to do the business today, especially with United no doubt fired up after their Wembley defeat.

For the most part, United have played well in their own half over the last month and a half since the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool, but there have still been some shocking lapses, like last Tuesday for Chelsea’s short-lived moment of hope, and Saturday, when Yaya Toure was able to fully capitalize on United’s inability to produce a clearance in a seemingly harmless situation to score what proved to be the decisive goal.

But we rarely see United follow up one lackluster performance with another, so I expect a much, much better showing after Saturday’s disappointment. And with Rooney raring and ready to go after completing his domestic suspension, I look for United to be nine points clear at the top at the end of the night and one step closer to #19.

Prediction: Newcastle 1-3 Manchester United