Newcastle head into a crucial game against Wolves in 17th place after a 3-1 loss at Manchester United. The gap between the Magpies and Fulham is down to just three points as the Cottagers have gone on a four-game unbeaten run. Newcastle is firmly in a relegation battle even after manager Steve Bruce insisted they wouldn’t be all season.
The match against Manchester United last weekend had a promising start with Allan Saint-Maximin equalizing before halftime. But as the Magpies’ players tired, their new pressing system faltered and the Red Devils broke the dam with two second-half goals.
Matches between Wolves and Newcastle always seem to be tight affairs, there have been four 1-1 draws in the past two years between the two opponents. The Wanderers are without injured star striker Raul Jimenez, which has caused issues in attack this season. They average 0.33 fewer goals per 90 minutes this season as compared to last season.
Let’s take a look at how both teams are performing as compared to the rest of the Premier League. As you can see in the scatter plot below, Newcastle have a weak defense and attack relative to the rest of the league. Wolves, who are in 12th place, have a strong defense but a weak attack in comparison. I expect a tight, nervy affair and would be surprised if there were more than two total goals scored.
Last 5 Matches
Manchester United 3-1 Newcastle
Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle
Newcastle 3-2 Southampton
Newcastle 1-2 Crystal Palace
Everton 0-2 Newcastle
Last 5 Matches
Wolves 1-0 Leeds United
Southampton 1-2 Wolves
Wolves 0-2 Southampton (FA Cup)
Wolves 0-0 Leicester City
Wolves 2-1 Arsenal
Wolves have turned up their form recently with a four-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League, including impressive victories over Leeds United, Arsenal, and Southampton. As you can see in this rolling average expected goals chart they are currently playing their best soccer of the season.
Newcastle, on the other hand, is enduring a tough run of form which has seen their expected goal difference dip sharply. A porous defense has coincided with a lackluster offense in recent matches. However, their past two opponents have been Manchester United and Chelsea which partially explains the drop in form.
Newcastle and Wolves will likely be without four players each due to injury. The big question for the Magpies is do they stick with the 4-4-2 diamond formation?
Wolves will be without Daniel Podence, Marcal, Raul Jimenez and Wily Boly. New signing Willian Jose will be expected to pick up the slack in attack with Jimenez out.
Newcastle will be missing star striker Callum Wilson, Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and Javier Manquillo. Joelinton was listed as doubtful earlier this week but appears fit and ready to go. Manquillo is also apparently progressing better than expected with his injury as the Newcastle Twitter account teased a few days ago.
Both teams have significant injuries in their forward and defensive lines but expect there is enough talent on both sides of the pitch to make this an interesting match.
I have a feeling that Bruce will swap out Joelinton for Dwight Gayle given that Joelinton had a minor injury. Personally, I think Joelinton would be a better strike partner for Saint-Maximin but we’ll see what Bruce has in mind. I expect Newcastle to stick with the diamond formation and to keep the same midfield four along with Saint-Maximin up top. In defense, Bruce’s hands are tied with injuries so expect more of the same alongside captain Jamaal Lascelles.
Newcastle Projected XI (4-3-3/4-4-2 Diamond): Dubravka; Lewis, Lascelles, Clark, Manquillo, Hayden, Shelvey, Willock, Almirón, Saint-Maximin, Gayle.
Manager Nuno Espírito Santo will likely stick with the 3-4-3 formation. The addition of Jose in January should help as Wolves prefer to play with a target man. The core of this Wolves team is still intact and it will be interesting to see how well Jose can fill in for Jimenez.
Wolves Projected XI (3-4-3/5-2-3): Patricio; Saiss, Coady, Dendoncker, Semedo, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny, Neto, Jose, Traore.
Newcastle have a clear group of leaders in attack. Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron, Jonjo Shelvey, and Joelinton. As you can see in the chart below these five players are the top five in expected goals and assists. Say what you want about Shelvey’s defending but his contributions in attack are clearly important. Not having Wilson obviously hurts, but Saint-Maximin and Almiron together have shown glimpses of becoming reliable goalscorers.
Wolves will likewise be missing a key part of their attack in Jimenez. They do have a strong cast of supporting characters in midfield and on the wing, led by Traore and Neto. Dendoncker being one of their expected goals leaders surprises me given that he plays as a defender or deeper midfielder. Traore and Neto will provide plenty of service, the question is will Willian Jose find a way to get on the end of those crosses and cutbacks?
A lot going into this match favors Wolves. They seemed to have figured out how to win without Jimenez and their squad is simply better on paper. Newcastle do have the players to compete though, as we saw in the 1-1 draw between the two earlier this season. Unfortunately for Newcastle their diamond shape leaves their fullbacks exposed. Neto and Traore are so good at creating chances from the wing which spells trouble for Jamal Lewis and Emil Krafth. Nelson Semedo also loves an overlapping run from right wing-back which is also concerning.
Newcastle will have chances to score in this game but none of the striking options are as clinical of finishers as Wilson. If I were Bruce I would consider ditching the diamond formation considering the outstanding wingers and wingbacks that Wolves have.
I see Wolves marching to victory in a battle of attrition. Things could go from bad to worse for the Magpies this weekend.
Final score: Newcastle 0 - 2 Wolves