Today is the 125th birthday of our beloved Newcastle United Football Club, however it’s fair to say that the celebrations won’t last long if we can’t come away from this one with a good result.
There were glimpses of improvements in last week’s battling draw at West Brom and strong start at Stamford Bridge over the weekend, but the same mistakes have continued to cost us all over the pitch – especially at the back.
With five defeats and a draw in our last six, these things must change, and fast, with us entering a busy and crucial December in search of some much needed points.
With it under the lights, on the day of our 125th birthday and some inspired flag displays set to be unveiled at both ends, this has the makings of a game where we’ll show up and do ourselves, Benitez and our club justice. Let’s hope so – especially when wins at this stage could be essential as far as Staveley upping her bid is concerned.
Leicester won’t make it easy at all mind. They’ve lost just once in their last five and won two on the spin, with them currently the best of the rest in 9th, being the next in line behind the high-flying Burnley and Watford and the’ top six’.
They have pace and penetration in their team and will punish us if we give them the sort of opportunities on the counter that we handed Watford and Bournemouth in our last two home games.
They’ll be arriving confident of getting a result, but with Rafa Benitez having never lose three Premier League home games in a row, he and we should have something to say about that.
Darlow should retain his place in goal. He was the pick of the bunch at Stamford Bridge last weekend, making some great one-on-one stops.
With Lascelles deemed fit by Benitez yesterday, you’d hope he will come back in. We’ve missed his presence and leadership badly in recent weeks, conceding 12 goals in the four games he’s missed since hobbling off against Bournemouth last month.
If he does come back in, will it be Clark or Lejeune playing alongside him? Hopefully Lejeune for me. He’s tried to be a bit too clever in recent weeks, reminding me of Coloccini’s early days in England, and he’s been caught out, but that can’t take away from how promising he looked alongside Lascelles earlier in the seaso.
At right-back, Manquillo did look far more comfortable down his natural side against Chelsea last weekend, but I’d bring Yedlin back in. He has the pace to handle Leicester’s Demarai Gray and, despite his recent string of mistakes, I don’t think there’s a better right-back at our club. Hopefully he’s learnt his lesson after being dropped last Saturday.
With Dummett still out, Mbemba has to be used at left-back once again. He’ll be up against Riyad Mahrez, but he’s good in one on one situations, tending to time his tackles/interceptions well, so he’s the best man for the job today for me. He’ll have to stay switched on mind, with him failing to react to a few crosses against West Brom and Chelsea.
To the midfield. Short and simple, Merino and Shelvey have to be given a run in the side in the middle of the park. They’re out two must talented midfielders and their styles have the potential to compliment each other.
We’ve been so used to saying Ritchie without hesitation, but his name shouldn’t be the first on the team sheet after a string of below par displays from him. He was woeful at Chelsea and with Christian Atsu back in contention you is his place under threat? I’d stick with him, but he needs to pull his socks up.
Atsu’s return is a boost, with him having nailed down his place in the side following some bright early-season displays, however I doubt he’ll be thrown back in today. Murphy was voted November’s player of the month at NUFC and has gone from strength to strength in his absence. He deserves another shot in the side.
With Rafa no doubt keen to see us back to the organised team we looked earlier in the season, I think we’ll see Perez start again. He’ll be the runner, but I would like to see him get on the ball more and carry much more of a threat in the final third. Will the real Ayoze Perez please stand up – he reminded me of a poor mans Suarez in some of his play several years ago but just seems to have lost his spark.
Up top you’d think Gayle will keep his place. He got his second goal in three games against Chelsea last weekend and looks much sharper and energetic than he did earlier in the season.
There’s always a good chance of Joselu being given the nod and always a good chance that fans will chant for Mitrovic’s name, but I’m not sure either will get in ahead of Gayle today.
In attack the threats are pretty clear. Vardy’s pace and intensity paired with Mahrez’s trickery on the right. Demarai Gray is still a little raw, but he’ll give them a real outlet out wide if selected. He’s very quick.
Iborra and Ndidi will be a tough midfield duo to crack. Physically imposing and energetic.
Harry Maguire is a monster at the back for them (and a player I kinda wish we signed). He’s strong in the air and surprisingly good on the ground, being capable of bringing the ball out of the back despite his size.
For an inside look at the oppositions strengths and weaknesses, see this week’s edition of ‘The Opposition Opinion’ where we’ve gained the thoughts of a Leicester fan this week. A bit of recommended reading ahead of today’s game! Click here to read it.
Newcastle – 15th (15 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 0 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 4
Leicester – 9th – (20 pts) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 2 / Drawn: 2 / Lost: 1
Benitez delivered some great news on the injury front yesterday. Jamaal Lascelles and Christian Atsu are fit and both look set to return to the NUFC squad. Whether both will start is debetable.
Paul Dummett (hamstring) played for the U-23’s last night, so he’s nearing a return but won’t be in the squad for this one.
No fresh injuries for Leicester. Robert Huth (ankle) and Matty James (Achilles) are still out, with the German centre-halve yet to appear so far this season.
Newcastle XI – (4-2-3-1) – Darlow – Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Mbemba – Merino, Shelvey– Ritchie, Perez, Murphy – Gayle
Leicester XI – (4-4-1): Schmeichel – Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell – Mahrez, Iborra, Ndidi, Albrighton – Gray – Vardy.
Not great is it. Four defeats in our last four meetings and without a goal in our last four against the Foxes. That’ll need to change if we want to pick up three points today!
Rafa’s never lost three top flight home games on the trot in England and Claude Puel has never won three in a row in the Premier League. It’s not the basis of my prediction, but I think both will maintain their records today as I fancy a draw.
I think we’ll be much better and I expect there to be a good atmosphere, but I rate this Leicester. They have a strong spine but are dangerous out wide and Mahrez and Vardy can be devastating on their day – as we saw in their 3-0 demolition of us on their way to the title two years ago.
We need to manage the atmosphere. Our need for a win can’t allow us to push forward a little too exuberantly as this Leicester side will destroy us on the counter.
I fancy a few goals, but reckon this one will end all square.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Leicester
Howay the lads!