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Previewing the Unpreviewable: Rochdale vs. Newcastle United

Newcastle travel just north of Manchester to take on this League 1 Side to start off their FA Cup Run

Newcastle United v Leicester City - Premier League
Can Sean be the key to success?
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Welcome to a brand new preview series that I can hopefully do on a regular basis for you all. This series promises to be a not so serious preview of every match for the remainder of the season, and my hope is that you as a reader walk away with a smile on your face despite the bleak future of this club under Mike Ashley.

This weekend Newcastle will travel to Rochdale to take on Rochdale Association Football Club in the 3rd round of the F.A Cup. Rochdale are a club who currently sit in 18th in League One ( Yes, the same league as Sunderland), 4 points above the relegation zone. Meanwhile Newcastle are sitting in 13th, 5 points above the relegation zone in the Premier League despite an awful last few matches.

Typical F.A. Cup rules apply here with the winner advancing in the 4th round, and a replay occurring at St. James Park if this game results in a draw.

Current Form

Both clubs have been pretty unremarkable in their past 5 matches with 3 wins and 7 losses between the two clubs. The last 5 results for each club are below

Rochdale (WLLLW)

Accrington Stanley 1-2 Rochdale (League One)

Gillingham 1-0 Rochdale (League One)

Rochdale 2-3 Fleetwood Town (League One)

Burton Albion 3-1 Rochdale (League One)

Boston United 1-2 Rochdale (FA Cup)

Newcastle (LLLWL)

Newcastle 0-3 Leicester (Premier League)

Newcastle 1-2 Everton (Premier League)

Manchester United 4-1 Newcastle (Premier League)

Newcastle 1-0 Crystal Palace (Premier League)

Burnley 1-0 Newcastle (Premier League)

What do Newcastle have to do to win?

Newcastle find themselves in an all too familiar situation as they are set to take on Rochdale, a team that on paper they should beat but easily could lose to. The injury bug has not been kind to Newcastle as the past 4 matches haver resulted in a plethora of injuries for the Northeast side, which may force Bruce to explore using some of our academy players extensively for the first time this season.

Rochdale are a team who historically have had success reaching the 4th round of the F.A. Cup the past few seasons, a feat that has seemed impossible for Newcastle to achieve. As noted below, Newcastle have made the 4th round only 3 times while Rochdale have done it 4 times.

In order for Newcastle to make it to the 4th round this year they have to do the one thing they seem to struggle with during cup matches: control the game.

Newcastle have had a nasty habit in cup matches the past few seasons of playing down to the level of their opponents. Whether it is against a rotated Wolves side, or a Championship Level side like Nottingham Forest. That, and unlucky cup draws, have prevented Newcastle from making any real progress in the EFL Cup or F.A. Cup.

Newcastle United v Leicester City - Carabao Cup Second Round
Newcastle already have lost in the Carabao cup, can we have two early cup exits?
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The reasoning for this is partially mental as it seems Newcastle teams of recent have had random matches where they struggle against lower quality sides. However, there is also an element of team selection that factors into Newcastle’s struggles in cup matches.

Newcastle often find themselves in a position where they are in a relegation scrap and have to choose between resting players for League matches or going with a really strong team for cup matches. This usually means younger, less confident players who are actually at or below the level of competition they are playing in these cup matches as well as players who are simply out of favor with the manager and have not had first team minutes.

This was prevalent in the Rafa Benitez era because Rafa prioritized safety over anything else. All of his cup matches featured heavily rotated sides with out of favor players like Henri Saivet, and Rolando Aarons mixed in with U23 players. This resulted in ugly matches, where Newcastle looked uneasy, but due to the sheer gulp in quality where able to somewhat get a handle on the match and see it out. It was never pretty, but, Newcastle eventually were always able to control the match and see out a decent result.

Of course, the R3 matches of the FA Cup and earlier round matches of the EFL Cup would have been more dominant wins if Rafa had put out a less rotated side. The key to win in all of these matches was Newcastle eventually controlling the match and outclassing inferior opponents. If Saturday’s side cannot actually eventually control the match with what I hope are better players than League 1 players, they will lose.

Players to Watch

Rochdale has nobody even worth mentioning one player that might pose a bit of danger for Newcastle. Ian Henderson is a 34 year old striker, who is Rochdale’s leading goal scorer. He just scored his 11th goal of the season, and seems to be the only true threat for scoring goals for the club. He has almost half of the goals scored by the team this season, and their subpar form over the past 5 matches can be traced back to the fact that Henderson only has one goal in those last 5 matches. Overall, Rochdale struggle to create chances, as they are 20th in League One in shots on target per match. This leads me to doubt that they have any real chance of scoring goals against Newcastle, but if they do, it will be because of Ian Henderson.

If you are a Newcastle fan, you’re going to want to pay attention to Sean Longstaff in this match. Despite having a wonderful debut season last year, Sean has had a subpar start to this season.

Sean’s best match was in Newcastle’s win against Manchester United, where his brother stole the spotlight with a debut goal. That along with the Tottenham match was one of the only matches where Sean has looked somewhat comfortable in the midfield under Bruce’s tactics.

Other than that match and the Tottenham win, Sean has not impressed and the team has not looked great with him in the midfield. Part of the reasoning can be blamed on Bruce’s tactics not being as strict as Rafa’s which has resulted in moments where the team is less disciplined. Young players in a system where they are not given clear instruction on what to do can struggle, and the reverse fixture of the Manchester United match was the perfect example of this. Bruce elected to start both Matty and Sean Longstaff, and neither looked disciplined or comfortable in the midfield.

Newcastle United v Leicester City - Premier League
Sean’s attempt at growing a beard is laughable
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Confidence is likely another reason Longstaff has struggled. After Sean was dropped from the team after picking up a red, he was replaced by an in form Jonjo Shelvey. Since then, even in substitute appearances, Sean has looked downright awful and has struggled to make an impact in any matches. In the 3 matches where he has played at least 45 minutes Newcastle lost. In fairness, one of those matches was the Leicester match where Newcastle played with 10 men for 45 minutes. But, the other two matches, a loss against Man United and a loss against Burnley, Sean has looked like a shell of himself.

A match where he can dominate the midfield and create chances would be good for the young midfielder as he heads prepares to return to consistent first team football with Shelvey out injured.

Additionally, Sean is one of the only other creative players in this team with Willems, Shelvey, and ASM all out. So, Newcastle need him to get back to his creative ways, and this match is the perfect match to get him back on track.

Injuries... of which there are many

Well Newcastle enter this match with a slew of injuries, most of them occurring in the last match. Earlier today Bruce was able to confirm that none of the 4 players who came off due to injury will be available for this matchup. this means Newcastle will be without Javier Manquillo, Jetro Willems, Jonjo Shelvey and Fabiamn Schar. Additionally, Newcastle will be missing Allan Saint-Maximin, Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark, and Jamaal Lascelles. Sung-Yeung Ki is day to day with an illness. Hopefully our incredible medical staff can get him some soup to help him fight this illness.

This leaves Newcastle without an actual left back, a situation Newcastle have found themselves in at least once every season since we have been promoted. Newcastle also only have two healthy center backs on the roster right now, which could mean we could see Newcastle roll out a 4 in the back formation.

On a positive note, Newcastle winger/Left Wingback Matt Ritchie is now healthy and ready to injure some more Newcastle players after they score goals.

For Rochdale they will get back midfielder Jordan Williams back from suspension.

One Bold Prediction

Miguel Almiron and Joelinton will both score.

Both of these payers have a knack for taking a lot of shots, with most of them being wide, or easily saved. Both players however have been unfortunate to have some decent strikes saved by Premier League keepers.

Newcastle United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
miggy is gonna score?
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Luckily for them, they are facing a League 1 keeper who is likely going to make a mistake or two that will result in them both getting goals.

One Not So Bold Prediction

Christian Atsu will almost score.

That is his brand, it is his calling, and it is his destiny. He will likely hit the post or have a header get tipped over the bar or have a tremendous run and blast the shot over the bar. Christian Atsu was literally brought on this earth to almost score goals, and we should be honored we get to witness him fulfill his destiny.

The Elijah Newsome Clout Rating

This is a never before seen metric used to measure clout. If you aren’t sure what clout is you are probably not under the age of 25, you don’t listen to rap, and you only use Twitter to complain about Joelinton being 40million.

For my uneducated folks. Clout is essentially 3 elements: Influence, Swag, and Relevance.

People with a lot of of Clout: Me, James Maddison, Raheem Sterling, that Formula One Driver that is black and very good at driving

People with no clout: Lee Charnley, whoever runs the Chronicle’s social media, Matz Sels.

The word “clout” used in a sentence: She didn't want to date me before I got verified on Twitter... smh she only want me for my clout.

Now that clout has been explained, let’s get into the Clout rating for Rochdale.

Rochdale are pretty irrelevant as a football club, and as a town. The club and town are overshadowed by nearby Manchester, where probably a lot of the Rochdale fans also support United, City, or that fan started club in Manchester who I forgot the name of, but I knew about before I knew about Rochdale.

Rochdale would have some more clout if they had literally anything interesting about them. Unfortunately for them, the most interesting thing about them is the name of their manager “Brian Barry-Murphy”. The name is not even cool, it is just comical that someone actually has that name.

I guess one cool thing about Rochdale is that they have a very, Very, VERY pink third kit.

Coventry City v Rochdale - Sky Bet League One - St Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium
Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Clout Rating: 1.5 Blueberry Donuts

Projected Lineups

Well Steve Bruce wants to field a strong lineup, so, I think every first team player could be available irregardless of their position. I think Joelinton will somehow find a way to make an appearance in this match either as a winger or a striker likely off the bench. This would be a good match for him to grab a goal and boost his confidence. Dwight Gayle will probably start for Newcastle because Steve Bruce seems to be enamored with him. Additionally, there will likely be a fair bit of youth team players on the bench because of all the injuries to first team players. In today’s U23 matchup Ludwig Francilette, Thomas Allan, Lewis Cass, and Elias Sorenson all were healthy scratches likely because they are in consideration for the Rochdale match. Emil Krafth is going to make an appearance due to him being one of two somewhat healthy fullbacks. I also would imagine Andy Carroll will play at least part of this match and will probably start. A likely physical match with a lower league side screams “Andy Carrol hat trick”, and Andy is going to try to score is often as he can

Newcastle Projected Lineup (4-4-2): Dubravka; Yedlin, Fernandez, Lejeune, Krafth; Almiron, Hayden, S Longstaff, Atsu; Carroll, Gayle.

Rochdale projected Lineup (4-3-3): Sanchez; Magloire, O’Connell, McShane, Keohane; Camps, Ryan, Rathbone; Dooley, Henderson, Baah.

One Random Fact to Say at the Bar

Rochdale are the 105th different English side Newcastle have faced in all competitions. They have not lost their first meeting against a fellow English team since January 1968 against Carlisle United in the FA Cup third round.

Elijah’s Never Wrong Prediction

Newcastle should win this comfortably with a 4-0 win with goals coming from Almiron, Carrol, Fernandez and Joelinton.

As much as Newcastle has struggled with teams worse than them, the gulp between League One and the Premier League is too vast or Rochdale to be a threat. Additionally, the past 3 seasons Newcastle have been able to make it to the F.A., Cup 4th round despite fans like me worrying about whether they would show up or not.

However, with Steve Bruce anything is possible. So don’t be surprised if Rochdale beating Newcastle is the story of the weekend.

Match Facts and Where to Watch

Date: Saturday, January 4, 2020

Kick-off: 12.31 PM GMT, 7:31 AM EST

Venue: Spotland Stadium (shocked this is the name of a venue

TV Coverage: BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate (UK), ESPN + (USA)