Alan Pardew believes attack will prove Newcastle United's best form of defence when Manchester United visit Tyneside on Sunday.

"The emphasis on will be on the attacking players," said Pardew whose team beat Sir Alex Ferguson's side 3-0 at St James' Park last January. "Manchester United would want to be stronger defensively than they are at the moment. Sir Alex's options have been taken away though injury – but so have ours.

"Losing [Phil] Jones and [Nemanja] Vidic is a blow but so is losing [Fabricio] Coloccini, [Tim] Krul and Steven Taylor for us. We feel we can exploit their defensive weaknesses and they will feel they can exploit ours."

While Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are likely to start a Premier League game in tandem for the first time, Pardew has Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé, Hatem Ben Arfa and Shola Ameobi at his disposal.

Even so he shied away from the idea that Sunday would represent a collision between English football's two most potent attacks. "Both our clubs have great strike forces with world-class players," he said. "But [Eden] Hazard and [Fernando] Torres works brilliantly at Chelsea."

Pardew is likely to begin with a 4-3-3 formation on Sunday. With Ben Arfa and Ba virtually guaranteed starting slots, Cissé faces stiff competition from Ameobi, who impressed in Thursday night's 3-0 Europa League win against Bordeaux.

"All our strikers have scored this week – Shola has scored, Demba has scored, Papiss has scored and, if I'm honest, Shola is playing at the same level as the other two," said Pardew. "He's in contention to start against Manchester United. That's great news because it breeds competition. Our fans now realise how important Shola is to us whereas I think in the past they didn't. He's improving as he gets older. He's maturing like a good wine."

After a slightly iffy start to the campaign – in terms of performances if not results – Newcastle recovered much of last season's fluency against Bordeaux and the challenge is to maintain such impetus.

"We could have done with an easier fixture to keep our rhythm going," said Pardew. "It's hard to get a rhythm against Manchester United but, in terms of momentum, we couldn't go into it in a better mode."

Newcastle's manager also believes playing at St James' Park will aid his team's cause. "The venue and the passion from the fans plays a part – you can't ignore that," he said. "It's an easy cliche to use for a manager – they are our 12th man – but it does play a part. Trust me. When I go to Old Trafford it's daunting for the opposition. It's the same with the Etihad, the Emirates and our place.

"At ours there's probably a bit more electricity about it purely because of the way the city is – it's football mad. That's reflected in the team's performances.

"I think this game will be close but the first goal won't decide it – the last one will and I hope it'll be ours."