Newcastle United travel to Turf Moor Tuesday to face Burnley for the first time since the 1982-83 season. The Magpies will be hoping to rebound from a 0-1 loss to West Ham that ended a five-match winning streak, while the Clarets will hope to keep their points streak going ahead of a weekend clash with fellow relegation zone denizen Queens Park Rangers. It's not the most exciting date on the fixture list, but it's certainly important for Newcastle, as their tough December schedule includes four dates with teams currently in the top ten. Oh yeah, there's a derby in there, too.
If you're a pessimist, this is the last opportunity for Newcastle to grab points before their heads are shoved underwater for a month or so. If you're an optimist, you've probably already counted these points. You probably shouldn't. The Toon find themselves once again at the top of the injury table. That, coupled with the #tiredbodies narrative of a midweek match, point to one of those Pardew interviews. Throw in a team that probably isn't as bad as their league position and you've got a recipe for an upset. In any case, Burnley play exactly the kind of game that makes them a tough midweek opponent, especially if Newcastle find themselves looking forward to a home tie with Chelsea.
Newcastle had their five-match winning streak snapped on Saturday in an ugly 0-1 loss to West Ham. Popular sentiment among the fanbase is that the Toon should be able to bounce back against inferior competition, but they will have to do better in several areas to get a result against any team that calls the Premier League its home.
First, Rob Elliot needs to take control in goal. Too often he came forward for a ball and came away empty-handed or settled for a punch when he could have collected. Paul Dummett has been a revelation since moving to the middle of the formation, but he needs help, and Elliot wasn't providing it on Saturday. He can stop shots, but tentative ball handling will lead to the scrappy kind of goals that Burnley is known for.
Second, they must be patient on the ball. It looks like we're headed for a return of the Cheik Tioté - Vurnon Anita midfield pivot, and while that combination has its strong suits, they can sometimes get a bit precious trying to pick out the perfect long ball. Burnley likely won't be pressing high, so there should be no reason to panic.
The final piece is more preferential, but I'd like to see Rémy Cabella involved early, which of course means that he starts. One of the major points of discussion since Saturday's loss has been the merits of Cabella versus Yoan Gouffran on the wing, but I don't see Pardew going away from Gouffran now, especially if he wants to counter the Clarets' movement down the wing. However, with Sissoko out, there's an opportunity to play Cabella behind Ayoze Perez, which could give the youngster some much-needed room to work.
Injuries & Suspensions
The usual suspects remain out due to injury: Davide Santon (knee), Siem de Jong (hamstring), Gabriel Obertan (leg), Tim Krul (ankle), Ryan Taylor (knee), Mehdi Abeid (foot). Fabricio Coloccini (calf) has been ruled out by Alan Pardew, but may return for Saturday's match with Chelsea. Daryl Janmaat (hamstring), Mike Williamson (?), and Massadio Haïdara (?) will reportedly face fitness tests prior to the match. Rolando Aarons (hamstring) was declared "out until December" about a month ago, but no news has surfaced on him this week, which probably means he's not available. Emmanuel Rivière returned to the bench on Saturday and will again be available.
Moussa Sissoko (double yellow) and Jack Colback (five bookings) are both suspended for this match.
For Burnley, Sam Vokes (knee) and Matt Taylor (Achilles) are out, while Michael Duff (calf) is doubtful. Scott Arfield returned to the bench last week and played as a substitute, so he should be available.
Burnley sit in 19th place with just 11 points and have the worst goal differential in the league, but they shouldn't be underestimated. They're on a bit of a run themselves, having gained 7 points from their last three matches. Victories against Hull City and Stoke City were legitimately good performances, and while they didn't play well against Aston Villa at home, they salvaged a draw with a penalty late and almost stole a win when Danny Ings hit the post in stoppage.
Sean Dyche's club plays with what he calls "old fashioned principles," which means exactly what it sounds like - nine and ten men behind the ball, looking for opportunities to break down the wing, and making their fouls count. Ings is the star, and for good reason: he's the only player with more than one goal to his name so far. If he can score an opener, the Clarets will try to hold on for dear life. However, they're vulnerable defensively, having conceded 21 goals just a third of the way through the season. Specifically, they struggle with the crossed ball. One source I found showed they had let in 10 goals via cross, which is astounding. Given Newcastle's track record, this could be the case of the stoppable force versus the movable object.
With Colback and Sissoko out and Vurnon Anita likely stepping in, it's easy to envision Pardew returning to a 4-2-3-1, which should make for a fun time on Twitter. The fitness tests for Janmaat, Haïdara, and Williamson will be huge, but assuming all three can go, here's what I think will happen:
Elliot | Janmaat, Williamson, Dummett, Haïdara | Anita, Tioté | Gouffran, Cabella, Ameobi | Ayoze
I'm guessing that Burnley roll with the same lineup they did last week, with Arfield back in the XI.
Heaton | Trippier, Keane, Shackell, Ward | Marney, Jones | Arfield, Barnes, Boyd | Ings
Prediction (Or: What Definitely Won't Happen)
Even though the warning signs point to an upset, I remain hopeful. This is the deepest Newcastle team in some time, so while this injury crisis will certainly hamper their chances, I believe they're still playing with enough heart and confidence to overcome a team that subsists entirely on heart and confidence (and Danny Ings). If I'm Pardew, I give Tioté permission to harass Ings from the get-go, pressure the Burnley back four into mistakes, and try to grab that elusive early lead.
Ayoze will get on the scoresheet early from a Cabella through ball, but Ings will level it in the second half with a mazy run that leaves Elliot looking silly. Ameobi will find the winner on a bullet from outside the box around the 80th minute.