Brian Laws will have a baptism of fire as he leads his new side out at Old Trafford today.

It could not be a tougher game for the new Burnley boss as his side take on a Manchester United team desperate to close the gap on league leaders Chelsea.

Things will be made difficult for Laws with Clarke Carlisle a doubt with a groin problem. Steven Caldwell, Martin Paterson and Jay Rodriguez are all definitely out while there are rumours this morning Chris McCann may be involved for the first time in three months. Andre Bikey is on international duty with Cameroon at the African Nations Cup.

Should Carlisle not make it Laws could be forced to hand a debut to David Edgar, the centre-back signed by Owen Coyle in the summer. Tyrone Mears and Stephen Jordan are both back having served suspensions in the cup win at Milton Keynes Dons, Owen Coyle’s last game in charge.

Other than that Laws is not expected to make too many changes and is likely to retain the 4-4-2 shape Burnley have lined up with recently, with David Nugent partnering Steven Fletcher up front.

Wade Elliott will have to find his early-season form to keep his place after struggling of late while newly-promoted player-coach Graham Alexander will be, as ever, the midfield lynchpin.

United are without Darren Fletcher who is suspended but could welcome back Edwin van der Sar. Their defensive crisis shows no signs of abating and they will still be without John O’Shea, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, three-quarters of their first choice back line, as well as Owen Hargreaves.

Nani is available after injury but is not expected to be selected.

Burnley are looking to arrest a worrying slide of form with no league wins since October and only one point picked up on the road – at United’s rivals City – all season.

United have been patchy of late, collecting seven points from their last four matches, including a 3-0 defeat at Fulham and a failure to win at Birmingham last week. They also exited the FA Cup to League One’s Leeds United and lost to Aston Villa at Old Trafford in December, although that is their only home league defeat of the season.

Burnley will be looking to complete a famous double over United having beaten them 1-0 at Turf Moor in August thanks to Robbie Blake’s unstoppable volley.

Wayne Rooney was quiet that night but with 15 goals already this season the England man is on course for his best campaign yet.

The hosts should have far too much for Burnley and a comfortable win will be expected. But a new manager’s arrival often boosts teams and stranger things have happened with United’s defence unusually leaky so far this term.

Prediction: Manchester United 4-1 Burnley.

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