It’s hard to know what to think coming into this one. After a crucial away win at Huddersfield last weekend, we should be full of confidence, especially when we’re facing a Fulham side rock bottom with the worst defence in Europe.
That said, we have the worst home record in England’s top four tiers, losing 7 of our 9 at St James’ Park so far this season. They may have conceded almost twice as many as we have so far this term, but they’ll be quietly buoyed by the fact we’ve lost our last two at home.
It’s a huge game for both sides. For us, a few big wins have seen us create a little bit of breathing space between ourselves and the bottom three, but given our fixtures get seriously tough for a good month after tomorrow’s game, we need to get the points in the bag now – because I’m not expecting us to pick up many in the games that await against the likes of Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and City.
If the truth be told, Fulham have been absolutely woeful defensively this season and rarely concede less than 2. If we get in their faces, get bodies around Rondon and good crosses into the box then I can see their defence crumbling – but there can be no room for complacency. They have several talented players and I’m expecting Ranieri to get something out of them soon enough.
As ever, here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
At the back, Lascelles may do well to keep his place given Schar and Clark’s form, with Fernandez also back – however I think Rafa will play our most physical defender given Mitrovic will look to bully us at the back.
Dummett could also return. Manquillo has filled in well in the last few games, but this is a game where staying solid should see us through – and Dummett is exactly that.
One of Ki or Diame could do with a rest, but with Shelvey injured, Hayden out of sorts and Longstaff unlikely to be thrown in at the deep end just yet, they’ll no doubt continue in the middle.
I expect Ritchie to be recalled and would be surprised to see Kenedy keep his place after such a poor display at Huddersfield (albeit as a wing-back).
Predicted NUFC team – (4-2-3-1) – Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez – Dummett – Ki, Diame – Ritchie, Perez, Atsu – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in this Fulham side:
Any of their defenders! – They’ve conceded 42 goals in 17 games this season and game the worst defence in Europe. Soft, positionally awful and no organisation whenever I’ve watched them, so Rondon will be licking his lips IF we can get good service into him.
Aleksandar Mitrovic – Whether we like it or not, he’s been their standout player so far this season, with 7 goals and much improved all round performances from what I’ve seen. I still question his mobility and work rate, but he’ll back into our defenders and look to cause havoc in the box. He’s bulked up since we last saw him at St James’ so Lascelles and co. must stand up to the test physically.
Tom Cairney – Time will tell if he can make anywhere near the same impact at this level, but he’s someone who really did run the game when they came to St James’ Park two seasons ago and beat us 1-3. We can’t afford to give him or Seri too much time on the ball.
Andre Schurrle – Has a real eye for goal and will shoot on sight – with him him having over 10 shots alone in one game I watched him in earlier this season. One to watch for our full backs as he’s bound to drift inside.
Predicted Fulham XI – (4-2-3-1): Rico – Odoi, Mawson, Ream, Bryan – Chambers, Seri – Kamara, Cairney, Schurrle, Mitrovic.
Jonjo Shelvey is ruled out once again, DeAndre Yedlin is back from suspension and Federico Fernandez could return after taking part in training over the last few days.
Top young winger Ryan Sessegnon is out for them with a groin injury, as is former Marseille midfielder Frank Anguissa.
As I said earlier, I’m struggling to know how this game will pan out – with us seeming like the last team who’d really attack a side (despite their major frailties at the back).
That said, if we can keep it tight at our end then I definitely fancy us to win. Fulham haven’t kept a clean sheet all season, with their defensive record suggesting they concede well over 2 per game filling me with cautious optimism given Salomon Rondon’s form.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Fulham
Howay the lads!