After a good start, some reality has been restored with defeats in our last two games. Alarm bells are certainly not ringing, as we knew this would be a tough season and we are still performing above expectations after a disappointing summer.
With takeover talk quiet for now, putting January plans in limbo, Rafa will continue to squeeze what he can from this group of players.
Our next four games would then take us to 15 games played – signalling over a third of our way into the season. By then it usually gives you a really accurate measure of where you sit in the league and what to expect the second half of the season.
Here’s who we have coming up in what looks like a crucial month for NUFC and my thoughts on each of our next four games:
MANCHESTER UNITED (A)
This weekend we face a tough game at Old Trafford. Man United’s form has dipped slightly from their superb start but they remain an excellent team and the power going forward of Lukaku, Rashford and Martial is tough to handle. Lukaku is going through a mini goal drought at club level too so it would be sods law he hits form again against us.
We will no doubt approach the game very cautiously, with Rafa setting up the team pragmatically as ever and making us hard to break down with the aim of frustrating the home crowd. There is always a bit of extra spice when Rafa and Mourinho meet after their Liverpool/Chelsea battles too. I think we may put up more of a fight than people expect but being realistic getting anything from this game would be a massive bonus.
Prediction – Man United 2 – 0 Newcastle
It looks though as highly regarded Hornets boss Marco Silva will still be in the Watford dugout for this one, despite being chased by Everton. Watford have won plaudits for their excellent start this season and have done as well as anyone outside the big six arguably. They are dangerous going forward and their star performer has been the talented young Brazilian Richarlison who looks a real player on the left wing. Him and the good form or Pereyra on the right side have added an extra dimension to their play, with less reliance on Troy Deeney – who will actually miss this one through suspension.
We’ll need to be as resolute as ever to stop what seems like a free-spirited and confident Watford this season, but they are pretty poor at the back and do concede goals. Dropped to the bench this season, it may see a return for Daryl Janmaat, who is another who left NUFC to find struggles and limited game time elsewhere.
Should we lose on Saturday, this will be a massive game for us to get back on track – but it won’t be easy.
Prediction – Newcastle 1 – 1 Watford
WEST BROM (A)
By the time we travel to the Hawthorns, a lot could have changed. If we fail to win either of our next two, the pressure will start to be on with us probably sliding down the table. On the other side, it may well be that current Baggies boss Tony Pulis may not even be at the club, with strong rumours that their Chinese owners have seen enough.
A big game for both teams, who could be in and around the same places in the table come May. West Brom didn’t build on their good start last season and have had a poor 2017. Both teams are solid, but struggle going forward.
We have some good memories at the Hawthorns, such as that Perez Flick or a great goal from Hatem Ben Arfa there a few years ago. We need some of the same this time – it would be massive to get three points here and I have a feeling we will.
Prediction – WBA 1 – 2 Newcastle
This chunk of games finishes with a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea aren’t quite the team they were when they ran away with the league last season but they are still a fantastic side with some outstanding players.
The usual suspects of Hazard, Morata and Pedro will be tough to keep off the scoresheet. Like any away performance, we will go there to frustrate the opposition and hold out for a draw but I fear for us with this one; barring the Cisse game of a years back we have an abysmal record at Chelsea.
Prediction – Chelsea 3 – 1 Newcastle.
This would leave us with 4 points and 18 points from 15 games played, which is on track to break the magic 40 point mark. The key games are the middle two against Watford and WBA where we need to get 4 points really, so we can relax into the other two games against the big teams, giving us a free swing.
What points haul are you expecting from our next four games?