|Wayne Rooney during a practice session
London: Although Manchester United are out of the title race, they boosted their confidence with a 1-1 first-leg draw at home to holders Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter finals on Tuesday. A win at erratic Newcastle would keep them in the hunt for at least a Europa League place for next season.
With the end of the league campaign fast approaching and most sides having only six games to play, the outcome will have a crucial bearing on the title race along with Chelsea’s game at home to Stoke City and Southampton’s visit to Manchester City.
United head into this match boosted by last weekend’s 4-1 win over Aston Villa and the midweek Champions League draw with Bayern Munich – two results that have lifted the confidence and belief of everybody associated with United.
As such, manager David Moyes is hoping to maintain the feel-good factor at St James’ Park ahead of Wednesday’s blockbuster second leg in Germany. And the manager will no doubt be encouraged by the fact that Newcastle have lost their last two Premier League fixtures – conceding seven goals in the process. However, memories of December’s 0-1 defeat at Old Trafford are still fresh in their minds.
Moyes has injury problems in defence with Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Rafael and Alexander Buttner all carrying knocks, while midfielder Ryan Giggs and forward Robin van Persie are also unavailable. Patrice Evra and Juan Mata should both return after missing Tuesday’s European match through suspension and ineligibility, respectively.
Meanwhile, Newcastle should be without goalkeeper Tim Krul, Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy, plus long-term absentees Shola Ameobi, Ryan Taylor and former United winger Gabriel Obertan. Newcastle are 9th in the Premier League table with 46 points, two points behind Southampton and six points behind United. So, this may be a good chance for the Magpies to climb up the table.
City have their destiny in their own hands too and will be champions if they win their final eight games. They dropped two points but played well in a 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Saturday but cannot afford to slip up again against the tricky Saints.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said his team, who were beaten 1-3 by Paris St Germain in their Champions League quarter final first leg on Wednesday, were out of the title race after they surprisingly lost 0-1 at lowly Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Yet no one else seems to think so.
“It is very, very close at the top and I think any one of the top four sides can win it,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said after his team’s draw at the Emirates. “I think all of the top four will drop points, it is still very open. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and us are all in it and all we can do is keep fighting.”
Meanwhile, City striker Sergio Aguero will not be fit for Saturday’s match, but Pellegrini expects the Argentine to play some part in next week’s top-of-the-table clash with Liverpool.
Aguero has scored 15 goals in 17 league matches this season, but has not featured since hurting his hamstring against Barcelona in the Champions League last month.
Third-placed City have 67 points, four behind leaders Liverpool and two off second-placed Chelsea with two matches in hand on both.
While Southampton are unlikely to qualify for Europe and are in no relegation danger, the Chilean is wary of the threat they pose.
“Southampton are a very good team who are playing without pressure and who are very comfortable in the table,” he said.
“They cannot be relegated and they can’t qualify for Europe so they are playing with freedom and we are absolutely sure we will have a hard game on Saturday.”
Defender Micah Richards is available for selection, having struggled with a knee injury. He has not played since the FA Cup defeat by Wigan Athletic in early March.
Chelsea will go back on top, for 24 hours at least, if they beat Stoke at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, a ground where the visitors have not won a league match since April 1974, although they did beat the west London side 3-2 at home in December.