It’s not often we’ve said it this season, but this Newcastle United team really have been a joy to watch of late.
We saw commitment to the cause, team spirit and some outstanding defensive work against the likes of Man City, Spurs and Wolves, but the arrival of Almiron has also given us both balance and flare – meaning we now look a competent side all over the pitch.
Back to back wins over Huddersfield and Burnley has given us some much needed breathing space and a 6 point lead over the bottom three (7 points if you factor in Cardiff’s goal difference), but the work can’t stop there – with this being Rafa Benitez’s big message since our win on Tuesday night.
Another top 10 finish is being talked about – and it isn’t out of the question given our form and the fact we’d be just two points off the likes of West Ham and Everton with a win here – however the main focus must be survival.
As we’ve seen, it just takes us to be 10 or 20% below our best and we’ll be beaten, so complacency can not creep n – no matter how safe we may feel in 13th on this form.
Rafa surprised a few by bringing Manquillo into the side in midweek and resting Yedlin, but I expect the American to come back in for this one – especially when we’ll need every ounce of his pace when up against their £35m man Felipe Anderson.
Elsewhere, you’d normally expect Rafa to rotate given this will be our third game in a week, however it feels like we’re playing too well to even consider making any changes right now – unless certain players are clearly fatigued that is.
The likes of Dummett, Ki, Fernandez, Diame, Atsu and Kenedy will all be pushing for game time, but until Benitez is given a reason to drop one of the 11 below, I can’t see them starting any time soon! A nice problem to have for Rafa.
Preferred NUFC XI – (3-4–2-1) – Dubravka– Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune – Yedlin, Longstaff, Hayden, Ritchie – Perez, Almiron – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in this West Ham side:
Felipe Anderson – The Brazilian arrived for huge money over the summer and he’s delivered. He’s quick, but he doesn’t rely on his pace, with his intelligence on and off the ball, his wicked right peg and his impressive footwork meaning Yedlin could have his hands full for this one. He’ll certainly need to be better than he was in our last away outing at Wolves if he plans to keep him quiet.
Marko Arnautovic – A maverick and a player who can look frustrated and uninterested one day, but electric, all energy and devastating on another. Let’s hope we see the latter for this one – otherwise Lascelles, Lejeune and Schar will have a real task on their hands!
Declan Rice – The young midfielder has been outstanding recently and it’s being reported that this game could be his ‘audition’ for an England call up. He’ll be up against fellow Three Lions hopeful Sean Longstaff in the middle of the park, so this is a battle to keep a close eye on.
Predicted West Ham XI – (4-2-3-1) – Fabianski – Zabaleta, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell – Noble, Rice – Antonio, Lanzini, Anderson – Arnautovic.
Jonjo Shelvey will miss out once again, but only because he is due to play with the U-23’s against Fulham on Friday night to build up his match fitness. Clark and Elliot are the only other players ruled out through injury.
For West Ham, Mark Arnautovic could return from illness, Manuel Lanzini could make his first league start of the season, Javier Hernandez and Mark Noble look set to be recalled and Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku are both fit after missing out recently.
Win and we’ll see no reason why we can’t have a late surge towards the top 10, but lose and it’ll be a reminder that we’re far from safe just yet – especially if results don’t go our way elsewhere.
I see no reason why we couldn’t come away with 3 points on current form and fancy Almiron to give Zabaleta a tough time IF the ageing Argentine starts, however I’m fearful that Felipe Anderson will tear Yedlin apart at the other end.
I don’t see us getting beat, but West Ham will give our back 5 much more problems than Huddersfield and Burnley have done, so I see this one being a score draw.
Prediction: West Ham 1-1 Newcastle.
Howay the lads!