If you look at the Premier League table you will not believe what you’re seeing. Don’t feel bad, though, because you’re not alone with that thought.
It’s always going to be weird finding Manchester (the red one) sitting fifth and just one point shy of fourth-place Chelsea. And on top of everything, the Red Mancunians have two games in hand compared to Tottenham (3rd) and one to Manchester City and Arsenal’s nine (2nd and 1st in the table).
The Magpies will be playing their 10th game of the season today at Old Trafford while sitting sixth in the table, at no risk of falling from that spot, and with a chance at jumping above Manchester and Chelsea if they are able to defeat ten Hag and Chelsea can’t do so against Aston Villa.
Not the most improbable of scenarios to imagine, if you ask me.
All things considered, Newcastle should have that much trouble getting rid of the Red Devils today even playing in their park. It’s been just two games after the last international break for Eddie Howe and the Men in Black & White, and in those two combined the Magpies have put nine goals past opposing goalkeepers.
The starting XIs in those two matches saw no changes and included interesting selections at left-back, left-wing, and the middle of the pitch: Dan Burn to the left instead of Matt Target, Jacob Murphy burning the left sideline, and the Longstaff-Willock partnership manning the midfield along Bruno.
And it has worked wonders.
That doesn’t mean that the Geordie faithful have nothing to worry about, mind you. Alexander Isak remains out of the squad, there’s been no word about Joelinton’s availability (he missed the game against Fulham and only played 25 minutes facing Brentford last weekend), and just yesterday night it was reported that Allan Saint-Maximin “has suffered a setback in his return from a hamstring.” ASM is seemingly about “to miss Newcastle’s run of three matches in a week,” including today’s affair with Manchester, the midweek game against Everton, and next weekend’s matchup away at Tottenham.
The same Craigh Hope, writing this morning for The Daily Mail, is also reporting that forward Alexander Isak “has suffered a setback in his recovery from a thigh injury.” Isak was inching closer to returning to the field but he’s now also expected to miss the next three games along with ASM.
But getting back to the full picture, Howe has been absolutely terrific at making the most of his available assets and putting together a team that can compete, and then some.
Newcastle have finally found the only thing missing in their recent past: goalscoring. Barring the games against Man. City and Liverpool, the Magpies have had at least a 45% possession share in all other seven Premier League games they’ve played to date. They have shot at least six times on goal in seven of the nine games too, but they had only scored nine goals before the break. It’s now been nine more in just two games.
Of course, this pace is unsustainable and facing a team playing in the Europa League, as bad as it might be, is going to pose a serious challenge for the Magpies to overcome. This is, on paper, the hardest rival Newcastle will face since the lad went against Liverpool on the last day of August. It’s now been more than six weeks since then.
Before the game against the Reds, Newcastle had scored six goals while earning six of a potential 12 points without having lost a single match. After that game, Newcastle scored 10 goals while earning eight points of another potential 12. The improvement is right there and quite obvious on all fronts.
Trying to find a positive loss in the middle of all injury-related negativity, there is a clear one in the fact that Howe has been forced to rely on the same rotation of players for the past few weeks and that has resulted in extraordinary form.
Unlikely top-notch performers such as Jacob Murphy and the Longstaff/Willock midfield have worked wonders and provided a boost to the team. That will stay the same at least for another week while we wait to welcome back Jonjo Shelvey, fully-fit Joelinton, and the two best players other than Bruno on the roster: Isak and ASM.
Given the latest run of results, the Toon Army can’t complain.
FotMob.com predictions at the upcoming Starting XIs from the Magpies and the Bees are in, so let’s go through what could be coming from Newcastle’s Eddie Howe.
- Not Available: Saint-Maximin (hamstring), Isak (thigh), Shelvey (thigh), Darlow (ankle), Krafth (knee), Ritchie (calf)
- Doubtful: None
- We had a five-message discussion earlier this week on CHN’s Slack channel about who should be considered the most important signing of Newcastle’s new era. Full picture, that’s definitely Kieran Trippier for everything he brought and meant to the club as it kickstarted the Saudi Epoch. On a true on-the-pitch basis, though, and adding the oft-factored-in “value” angle to it, the winner is Nick Pope without discussion. Not a single voice would oppose that pick.
- So, yes: Kieran Trippier as I already introduced in the section above about Nick Pope. He will start at right-back mostly because there is no other player available at the position but also because he’s goddam murdering everybody that happens to go face-to-face against him. Tripps was the first signing of magnitude by the Saudi board, showed the way for others to join the project instilling confidence in them, and will always be remembered as the player that got things started—your City’s Vincent Kompany or your PSG’s Javier Pastore.
- Will Howe shuffle things in the middle and left side of the defensive line? When Howe decided to pick the three-tank line of Schar, Botman, and Burn against Fulham for the first time it made sense on the assumption that it’d take a brick wall of bodies to stop Mitrovic. Then the striker got injured before the half, Fulham did nothing, the line stayed put for the remainder of that game, and NUFC won 4-1.
- The same three-headed monster line started again last weekend against a much more fluid forward line led by a quite livelier Ivan Toney. Toney, of course, was reduced to a whole bunch of smoke by it. Manchester comes with either Ronaldo/Martial at the top of their attack along with Rashford and Antony one step deeper on the wings and Bruno Fernandes linking the midfield with the forward lines. That’s some sparkling side right there, whether you accept it or not. So I think Matt Targett will be the one tasked with handling Antony with Dan Burn pairing Fabian Schar in the middle.
- Howe said more than a week ago and ahead of the clash against Brentford that “Joelinton has trained this week and he’s fine for tomorrow.” Everybody expected him to start next to Bruno, but it didn’t happen. Joelinton, in fact, only entered the pitch with 65 minutes gone, and Newcastle already up 3-1 on the scoreboard. Joelinton is the most industrial of midfielders available for Howe—who, by the way, didn’t mention Joelinton at all on Friday’s press conference so we have to assume the Brazilian is 100% fit and ready to go—and I think he makes the most sense against Manchester’s midfield duo.
- Another start for Bruno today with that new contract about to land in his lap.
- Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff kept their starting run going last weekend after doing so against Fulham a week earlier and four other times before (including in the EFL Cup game against Tranmere Rovers in late August). While Willock has been in Howe’s XIs all season long, that’s not been the case for Sean. Both have been great, but if Howe keeps playing Willock more and on more important roles that’s because both are into something: Howe having discovered a phenomenal midfield complement for Bruno and Joelinton with two-way abilities, and Joe Willock into a new level of play that he has now unlocked and that is still ways away from being the one of his final and developed form.
- We have reached the point where (injured players available or not) there is one clear pick in every line on the pitch: Pope, Trippier, Bruno, and Miguel Almirón.
- With Saint-Maximin suffering a setback and ruled out for another week at the very least, it’s all about Jacob Murphy keeping up his good run of performances. Ryan Fraser is available but Murphy has been so good of late—even scoring his first goal in more than a year last weekend—that not starting the Englishman would be borderline malpractice. Gotta keep striking when the iron is hot.
- With Toney scoring a backheel beauty (and a penalty) yesterday, it’s now Callum Wilson's turn to reply to that outing and keep his bid for the England World Cup squad call-up going strong. Wilson has scored three goals this season, including efforts against Nott. Forest, City, and lastly Fulham two weeks ago in the 11th minute to open the scoreboard then.
CHN Predicted Lineup
DEF Trippier - Schar - Burn - Targett
MID Willock - Bruno - Joelinton
WNG Almirón - Murphy
Manchester United vs. Newcastle
- Date: Sunday, October 16th
- Kick-off: 14:00 BST / 9:00 EST / 7:00 PST
- Location: Old Trafford, Manchester (England)
- Broadcasts: BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra (UK), Telemundo Deportes En Vivo, SiriusXM FC, USA Network, Telemundo (USA), fuboTV (Canada)
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Howay the Lads!