Newcastle United have locked up European football for the 2012-13 season, but are looking to make that football Champions League football. Sitting in fourth place in the table with a game in hand versus 3rd place Arsenal, the rallying cry is to capture third to make sure that Chelsea have no influence on our qualification for Europe's premier competition. Belief is running rampant and spirits are high among the squad and the fans. For most, they will be the favorites in this match, coming in on a run of 6 victories with a striker who just can't stop scoring and looking as dangerous as they have all season.
Wigan Athletic have been here before. In fact, they have rather become the Harry Houdini of the Premier League, escaping relegation on the last day of the season in the 2010-11 edition of the Premier League and a handful of years earlier escaping by one. single. goal. on goal difference. They are at it again this season, having recently been firmly within the drop zone and looking as likely as Wolves to go down.. then they yet again found some of that late season magic. Four wins in their last six including 3 points taken from Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal have them sitting one point above the drop (as well as third in the form table) with a six-pointer v. Blackburn still to play. Are they the easy pickings that the league table might indicate? Up to their loss to Wigan last weekend, they too were among the hottest teams in the Premier League.
Both clubs have serious need for the three points on offer in this match. . . who will grab them?
- Newcastle's defense. Having not conceded a goal in the last 398 minutes of match time, Newcastle are easily in their best defensive form of the season. The emergence of Davide Santon on the left side and the stability of the Williamson/Coloccini partnership in the middle has added to the solid play of Danny Simpson on the right and has freed the midfield up to play a little more creatively than perhaps they have been able to in the past. If they can continue this run, obviously, the points would be available to take away from the DW Stadium... but Wigan are going to prove a stern test for our suddenly solid back line.
- Wigan's 3-4-3 formation. Wigan's rich run of form lately coincides with the decision of Roberto Martinez to switch to the offensive-minded 3-4-3 formation. The formation is going to naturally force Newcastle's midfielders a little down the pitch in order to support the 4 at the back, and we are going to need one of the three in the front to track back with regularity. Since the formation change, Maynor Figueroa has been one of the most influential players on the pitch for Wigan. If he gets into the attack, it obviously creates a numbers problem.
- Hatem Ben Arfa. This is really a corollary to the second point- if Hatem Ben Arfa can use his skills and creativity (and newly found awesome form) to keep Figueroa at home, you have to give advantage to Newcastle in the defensive end 7-on-7. With the space created in the Newcastle offensive end by a three-man back line, Hatem's ability on the break could very well be a factor.
- Wigan's Home Form: The Latics have only 3 home victories this term which is the fewest in the Premier League. By contrast, the Mags are the sixth best road team in the PremiershipNewcastle and manager Alan Pardew have stirred up a bit of vitriol over the course of the week regarding the availability of tickets for Newcastle supporters and such, so how Newcastle respond to what will be a relatively (with 4500 away tickets sold and more Toon fans likely to make their way in, the crowd will be at least 20% Geordie) raucous start to the match will determine a lot.
- I wouldn't bet the draw. In eleven Premier League encounters between Wigan and Newcastle, only twice has the result ended in a draw. It could be a low-scoring affair, but the likelihood is that an extremely valuable 3 points will be taken by one squad or the other.
Newcastle United FC
Currently: 4th place, 18-8-8 62 pts
Out: Steven Taylor (Achilles), Sammy Ameobi (knee), Peter Lovenkrands (thigh)
Did Not Travel: Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux
Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon | Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas | Ben Arfa, Cisse, Ba
Projected Subs: Elliot, Raylor, Ferguson, Perch, Gosling, Best, Ameobi
Currently: 17th place, 8-10-17, 34 points
Out: Stam (hamstring)
Doubtful: Di Santo (calf)
Probable: Rodallega (knee)
Projected XI: Al Habsi | Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa | Boyce, McArthur, McCarthy, Beausejour | Moses, Sammon, Gomez
Projected subs: Pollitt, Gohouri, Jones, Watson, Diame, Maloney, Rodriguez
What Will Certainly Not Happen
All good things must come to an end, and I reckon the scoreless streak is going to be that good thing.
Wigan Athletic 1 (Rodallega) - 2 (Ben Arfa, Ba) Newcastle United