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Newcastle United-Manchester United Preview

By TOM BENNETT

STATS European Football Writer

(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Manchester United will be looking to maintain their advantage at the top of the Premier League table when they welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

The festive day of football marks the halfway point of the season, with United (14-1-3) guaranteed to be atop the table despite a 1-1 draw with Swansea City on Sunday. Even with the league leaders dropping points, the main talking point from the game against the Swans was an incident involving Robin van Persie taking a clearing attempt by Ashley Williams from close range in the head, which Sir Alex Ferguson at the time claimed was potentially life-threatening - although Newcastle manager Alan Pardew disagreed.

"I think the one with Van Persie was perhaps not as bad as Alex at first imagined," said Wednesday's opposing manager, Pardew. "Sometimes from the side-line, it looks a lot worse at the time. I'm not sure whether there will be action taken for that, but certainly for elbows and off-the-ball incidents, that's a good feature that the FA have brought in."

Newcastle (5-5-8) have struggled to carry last season's strong form into the current campaign. Their 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday was only the Magpies' second win in nine, and with just 20 points, they are just five clear of the drop zone.

"Although we have won, the away form hasn't been great, so there will be two teams with a little bit to prove, two managers smarting a little bit with their teams," said Pardew, looking ahead to the trip to Old Trafford. "It will make for a really professional game. Sometimes on Boxing Day, you can get a loose game - I don't think this will be.

"You want to roll into teams when they have off-days, that does help. Swansea, I think, did that, Manchester United did have an off-day and fortunately for them, they got a point out of it. What we have got to do is try to make it another off-day by making it equally difficult for them to play."

United have kept just three clean sheets since opening day after last season managing a league-high 20, and defender Jonny Evans is aware Newcastle will pose another major goal threat on Wednesday.

"What Newcastle do very well is work the ball wide and put it in the box," said Evans. "A lot of their goals come that way because Ba and Cisse don't give you a minute. When the ball is floating around in the box, they beat people in the air and their goal record is what got Newcastle to where they were last year."

Rafael (hamstring), Anderson (hamstring), Nani (hamstring) and Shinji Kagawa (knee) are injury concerns for United. Newcastle have doubts over Hatem Ben Arfa (hamstring), while Steven Taylor (hamstring), Yohan Cabaye (groin), Dan Gosling (knee) and Ryan Taylor (knee).

Manchester United went into the season having failed to beat Newcastle in the last three meetings between the sides. However, Ferguson's side have already beaten Wednesday's opponents twice this season - posting a 2-1 League Cup win and a 3-0 victory at St James' Park in the reverse fixture Oct. 7 as Evans and Patrice Evra scored in the first 15 minutes, and Wayne Rooney finished with two assists.

United have scored 44 goals in 18 games this season - a league high - and have the best home record in the division, dropping just three points at Old Trafford. Newcastle have yet to win away from home this season (0-4-4) and have managed just eight goals in eight games on the road.

Updated December 24, 2012

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