Newcastle United will resume Premier League Action on Saturday at St. James’ Park, looking to right the ship after two defeats to start the campaign. Perhaps luckily for Newcastle, they will encounter West Ham, another club looking to get things going after a rough beginning. In preparation for the clash, we caught up with Charlie over at Brace the Hammer to discuss the match.
1. West Ham had a great transfer window, but has had a tough go of it so far to kick off this season. Is the current run of form something worrying, or just a matter of poor luck?
Our form so far is worrying in its own right but the larger concern is that, despite having a good window, we're not looking any better than we did last season. Our 11th place finish flattered our performances massively, which ranged from pretty crap to down right horrendous at times. Hopefully, the 3-2 loss to Southampton with 10 men is a sign that we're beginning to regain the fighting spirit that epitomized Bilic's first season in charge, however I'm rather doubtful.
2. The West Ham roster has changed a bit since they last played Newcastle. Who are the new (or new-ish) players for Newcastle supporters to watch this season?
Arthur Masuaku has been a revelation at LB dethroning England International Aaron Cresswell, I had no clue who Edimilson Fernandes was when we signed him from Sion but last season he was one of our better players and Joe Hart has a point to prove after being cast aside by Manchester City and his somewhat erratic stint at Torino. Speaking of erratic, Marko Arnautović is a player with all the ability required to make it at the top level but his inconsistency and unpredictable temperament lets him down. Frankly, that's why he played for Stoke and now West Ham, not one of the bigger sides. Javier Hernández is a pure goalscorer, something we haven't reliably had in the Premier League since Demba Ba for the 2nd half of a season in 2011. Feed him and he will score, it's as simple as that.
Two relative unknowns to keep an eye out for are youth players Declan Rice and Domingos Quina. At 18, Rice is a CB/CDM who impressed so much during pre-season that he's played in both Premier League fixtures so far. He hasn't looked out of place, barely put a foot wrong, something uncommon for teenagers in the league. Quina, even younger at 17, has been linked with moves to the likes of Arsenal and PSG but appears to be not only staying with us but pushing for a 1st team spot. One of the most impressive performers for both our's and Portugal's youth teams, Domingos is a creative midfielder who's been compared to Luka Modric and he'll be looking to make his Premier League debut this season.
3. West Ham has seemed to be one of the clubs with the widest variance in table positions in preseason predictions. How do you see the season playing out?
I wish I knew. Bilic's first season was a joy to behold, the best in recent memory. We were free flowing, few teams in the league could handle us and we challenged for Champions League football until the very end. His second was a slog, lethargic performances from start to finish and we couldn't defend to save our lives. Unfortunately, the performance against Southampton feels like an anomaly.
We've conceded 7 in 2 so far, not exactly defensively sound, however with Hernández and Carroll sharing striker duties and Lanzini, Antonio and Arnautovic supporting them, there are rays of hope seeping through the dark foreboding clouds. Lanzini makes our team tick and without him, we're reliant on lucky moments of individual brilliance to beat our opponents. If we can keep him fit or buy a capable back up, that should unlock the potential the team has.
I'm fairly optimistic. I have major concerns about our defense but we have the attacking players to really hurt teams. I think there are 7 teams better than us, so we should finish 8th, but realistically a top 10 finish is the aim. A cheeky cup run would do wonders for Bilic and the board's reputation as well.
4. Finally, how about a prediction for Saturday?
Our defense is incapable of not conceding at the moment but, given your scoring woes so far this season, I don't see it being a goal fest. Assuming Lanzini returns, I'm going for a very optimistic 2-1 West Ham win.