After three weeks away, Premier League football returns to St. James’ this afternoon as we play host to Stoke City, looking to make it three wins on the bounce after morale boosting wins over West Ham and Swansea.
We may be arriving into this one full of confidence, however i’m a expecting Stoke to offer a far tougher test than West Ham posed in our last home encounter. The visitors arrive unbeaten in their last three and in decent knick, holding table topping Manchester United to a 2-2 draw in their last outing.
We must match the intensity and togetherness we’ve shown in our last two games here. We have the chance to turn a good start into a great one with a win today – complacency must not creep in, with the players having a job to do on the pitch and us, the fans, having a job to do off of it.
Team-wise i’m hoping Atsu is brought back into the starting 11. Murphy never really got going at Swansea, whilst Atsu has had a pretty lively start to the season. Shelvey played no part at Swansea, but i’d be in favour of him returning to the team today. Whether that be for Hayden or Perez, in a slightly more advanced role, is up to Rafa, however i’d be inclined to see him replace the latter – who is too often on the fringes of games for me.
Joselu looks all set to continue up-top – a man who’ll have the bit between his teeth to score against his former team – whilst Lascelles and Clark look set to keep Lejeune out the team once again. I’d be tempted to see Yedlin return at right-back to give us that extra dimension with Ritchie going forward, whilst I have my concerns over Gamez at left-back, even if he did well at last Sunday. Swansea lacked width and he was rarely ran at, so I expect Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri to pose a totally different test this time around. He deserves another chance in the side, but I’d probably feel more comfortable see the more agile and athletic Mbemba come back in for this one.
Stoke may have lost talisman Marko Arnautovic this summer, but his loss has been compensated by some pretty impressive signings.
New forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has hit the ground running and arrives on the back of a brace against Manchester United, with the dangerous Jese – on loan from PSG – and unpredictable yet incredibly capable Xherdan Shaqiri likely to start either side of him.
Their midfield duo of Darren Fletcher and Joe Allen offers real industry in the middle, with several new defensive signings including Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi and Kevin Wimmer are likely to be on show in their new-look system involving three at the back.
Click here for a closer look into tomorrow’s opposition, as we’ve been speaking to Stoke fan Andy who’s shared his thoughts on NUFC and offered some insight into Stoke’s season so far.
Newcastle (10th) – Played: 4 / Won: 2 / Drawn: 0 / Lost: 2
Stoke (12th) – Played: 4 / Won: 1 / Drawn: 2 / Lost: 1
Benitez has confirmed that the only players unavailable through injury are Paul Dummett and Massaido Haidara, meaning he has almost every senior player available for selection aside from the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic.
This suggests Chancel Mbemba has made a swift recovery from an injury picked up on international duty, whilst the likes of Lejeune, Yedlin and Shelvey will be pushing for starts after returning from spells on the sidelines.
For Stoke, Mark Hughes will hand a late fitness test to captain Ryan Shawcross, however there is a feeling that their star centre-back will miss out through a back injury.
Fellow defender Geoff Cameron has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, while Ibrahim Afellay (knee) and Stephen Ireland (broken leg) are still recovering from a long-term injuries.
Newcastle United XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Manquillo, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba – Hayden, Merino – Ritchie, Perez , Atsu – Joselu
Stoke City XI – (3-4-3) – Butland – Wimmer, Zouma, Martins Indi – Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters – Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Jese.
It’s fair to sat we haven’t faired to well against Stoke in our last five meetings, scoring just one goal, with two draws and three defeats. Here’s hoping we buck that trend today with a win!
I’m expecting a tough test here. Stoke are a decent side who won’t roll over like West Ham did.
I think we’ll put in another good effort, but fall just short of what would be a third successive win. I see Jese and Shaqiri causing problems and the midfield battle being a tight one, but do think we’ll do enough to get a point, with our shape and organisation suggesting to me that we won’t be beaten easily this season.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Stoke
Howay the lads!