Another quiet week on Tyneside..
Takeover talk has intensified, we’ve got a valuable point away to Everton in a battling performance and the Magpie Group have since cancelled the boycott that was planned for this Sunday’s game on Sky.
All that side, this weekend’s clash with Wolves is another important one. We’ve put in some real good work recently to earn back to back home wins over Bournemouth and Watford and done brilliantly on the road to get 4 points from trips to Burnley and Everton, however last weekend’s 0-3 hammering when hosting West Ham was a reminder of what can happen when we’re a little below our best.
We’ve done a great job of steadying what, to some, looked like a sinking ship, however we are still just four points clear of the drop zone – and that’s not a big margin given we have some VERY tough fixtures coming our way after Christmas.
Wolves are a good side and will have a spring in their step after their huge midweek win over Chelsea at Molineux, however it is worth noting that they’d been struggling badly before that win – losing to Cardiff and Huddersfield in their two games before Chelsea on a run that included five defeats and one draw in six games.
If we get into them early and don’t allow them to build on their win on Wednesday we could quickly break their fragile confidence levels.
Either side of our 0-3 home hammering against West Ham, we’ve won pretty convincingly at Burnley and secured a great point at Everton – and in these two away games we’ve played three/five at the back in a system that seemed to suit us well at both ends.
There’s a good chance Rafa sticks to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation (especially now Dummett could be set to return), however it feels like it’s worth sticking with a system that’s been working well – with us looking a bit one dimensional against West Ham.
The above system would also match Wolves’, with their attacking wing backs and illusive front three likely to be hard to contain if we go for a flat back four. Rafa knows better than me, but I think it’s time to give this formation a shot at St James’.
Whilst a return to 4-2-3-1 with Dummett back in at left-back looks likely, he’s shown in the past that he’s more than capable of playing as a centre-back in a three-man defence – and that is something Rafa may consider given Schar is suspended.
Ki and Diame have started several games in a row now and, although they’re doing well, I can see Shelvey coming in sooner rather than later, with Rafa likely to rotate given the festive fixture rush that we’re now entering.
Predicted NUFC team – (4-2-3-1) – Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett – Shelvey, Diame – Ritchie, Perez, Kenedy – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in this West Ham side:
Ruben Neves: The heartbeat of this Wolves side. Superb technically, devastating from free-kicks and a tenacious player who will get stuck in too. He missed their midweek game through suspension and could be at it after a much needed rest.
Matt Doherty: Probably the most attacking and most advanced wing-back I’ve seen in the league this season. He plays on the right-hand side of their five-man defence, but he looks more like a right-forward when you watch where he positions himself. He could leave gaps at the other end – and we must look to exploit this – but he’s a real threat going forward, with him weighing in with two goals and three assists already his season.
Willy Boly: Their best defender and an absolute unit who will give Rondon a real run for his money when it comes winning balls in the air. Rondon often outmuscles his man, but this will be a real physical test for him.
Adama Traore: There’s a chance he won’t start, but, if he does, he’ll be their main threat on the counter. His final ball and decision making is lacking at times, but he has frightening power and pace – being able to beat his man at will when he wants to.
Predicted Wolves XI – (3-4-3) – Rui Patricio – Boly, Coady, Bennett – Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Vinagre – Traore, Jiminez, Jota.
Fabian Schar is ruled out through suspension (5 yellows), but Matt Ritchie is back after a one-match ban saw him miss the Everton game. Paul Dummett and Kenedy expected to be back involved IF they come through training unscathed on Saturday.
First choice left-wing back ‘Jonny’ will miss out once again, but star midfielder Ruben Neves is back after a one-match ban saw him miss their win over Chelsea in midweek.
I think there might be a few goals in this one.
We both come into this with confidence after good results in midweek, which is unfortunate for us given they were seriously struggling prior to their 2-1 win over Chelsea a few days ago.
I genuinely haven’t a clue how this one will pan out, so it may come down to which side has recovered best after two big efforts in the week – especially when both managers don’t tend to rotate much.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Wolves
Howay the lads!