With World Cup fates being sealed left, right and centre, the latest international break was a little more bearable than usual, however the return of Premier League football is a welcome one as always.
Our trip to St Mary’s is not only a long one, but one we’ve often struggled in if recent history is anything to go by. We’ve lost our last four by an aggregate score of 13-1, conceding 11 in our last three – not that I expect this current side to fold like previous ones clearly have done over the years.
Quite incredibly, Southampton have failed to score in eight of their last nine home Premier League matches, with the exception being a 3-2 win against West Ham in August.
In contrast we’ve conceded just 10 goals in our last 13 Premier League games under Benitez – never conceding more than twice in a match. The last time we shipped three in a top flight game was our last visit to St Mary’s, being the 3-1 defeat in April 2016 – famously remembered for Jamaal Lascelles’ half-time rant aimed at those he believed ‘did not care enough’.
It’s interestingly poised this one. Southampton are a decent footballing side, but as the remarkable stat above suggests, they’ve been seriously short of goals at home for a while now. We ourselves have only scored 1 goal in three away from home this season, so whilst we should be looking to stay organised and frustrate a toothless looking Southampton attack, I’m hoping to see a little more cutting edge from us in the final third – especially when there’s so much to suggest this one could be settled by the odd goal.
It is worth noting that Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino was Benitez’s understudy for several years in Italy and also played under the Spaniard at Liverpool. Rafa has admitted that this may give Sunday’s opposition manager a slight insight into our tactical approach, however Benitez has responded to this potential advantage brilliantly as ever – “He knows everything about me so he has an advantage. But then he was my player, so maybe I know all about him!”
Rafa made a habit of rotating his side each week last season, but with our schedule being far more spread out than it was last year, Benitez has made far less regular changes and I’m not anticipating many once again this weekend. We could well see the same side who earned a hard fought draw against Liverpool two weeks ago.
Lejeune is going to be a first choice centre back before long, but Rafa has been given no reason to drop either of Lascelles or Clark in recent weeks – unless of course the latter has come back from international duty with Ireland a little worse for wear.
With Dummett out injured, Mbemba has often been our stand in left-back for most of the season, however he was dropped form the squad last time out, seeing Javier Manquillo fill in. The Spaniard did relatively well against the in-form Mo Salah and given he has spent the last two weeks training on Tyneside while Mbemba has been on international duty with Congo, there’s every chance Manquillo will keep his place. He’s perhaps not as solid defensively as Mbemba, but Benitez likes ‘balance’ and Manquillo is the more natural full-back of the two.
Yedlin has had a long and disappointing trip away on international duty, seeing the USA fail to qualify for the World Cup this week. He will have been back on Tyneside in good time for Sunday’s game, but there’s a slim chance he’s rested by Rafa given he’s played 3 hours of football since his outstanding performance against Liverpool. Hopefully not, but you never know with Benitez.
Now to the midfield. Hayden was poor at Brighton in our last away game, paving the way for the exciting partnership of Shelvey and Merino to be tested against Liverpool. Given we were not overrun by a very attack minded Liverpool side, there’s no reason why the pair won’t continue in the middle of midfield this weekend.
Following the Liverpool draw, Atsu and Ritchie were both forced to withdraw from international duty with Ghana and Scotland respectively. Fortunately, it’s emerged that the pair will be fit enough to make the squad on Sunday. Whether both start remains to be seen however.
Perez continues to frustrate offensively, but his constant running, ability to defend from the front and fit into Benitez’s tactical plan appears to be the main reason he continues to be selected. Ahead of him will almost certainly be Joselu – a man who was in dire need of a goal last time out and got one – albeit rather fortuitously. It was a huge moment for the hard working Spaniard nonetheless. Hopefully he can take confidence from that and have a bit more of a spring in his step against a decent looking Southampton defence.
Newcastle (9th – 10 points) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 3 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 1
Southampton (12th – 8 points) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 1 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 3
Once again Paul Dummett and Massaido Haidara are the only absentees through injury.
Jonjo Shelvey fractured his finger in training last week, however the midfielder will be fit enough to face the Saints – as long as he doesn’t take throw ins according to Rafa!
Ironically, NUFC’s summer target Matty Targett appears to be the only absentee for the home side, with Shane Long having recovered from a knock.
Newcastle United XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Manquillo – Shelvey, Merino – Ritchie, Perez , Atsu – Joselu
Southampton XI (4-2-3-1) – Forster – Cedric , Yoshida, Van Dijk, Bertrand – Romeu, Lemina – Tadic, Davis, Redmond – Long
As you can see, we’ve tended to ship a goal or two against Southampton over the years. Hopefully we don’t see a repeat performance, however I wouldn’t bank on it given our defensive resilience and their offensive limitations so far this season. I can never be too sure mind. This is Newcastle United after all!
Prediction: Southampton 0-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!