A football masterclass. A soccer clinic. A wondrous performance. Call it what you want. That’s what the Geordie Army got to witness last Monday on home turf as the Magpies closed their home-turf season in St James’ Park against Arsenal and absolutely demolished the Gunners, both literally and figuratively.
Although Newcastle couldn't defeat—or even get one measly point—from the paws of Manchester City and Liverpool before that, they surely removed Arsenal from the UEFA Champions League equation as Mikel Arteta’s side will need a miracle this Sunday to finish the season in the fourth place. Now, less than a week later, United find themselves facing another crucial tie—for their opponent, mind you.
It’s Burnley on Sunday, away from home, and while not entirely a do-or-die game for the Clarets (if Leeds don’t get a better result than Burnley then the latter will stay in the Premier League) quite an ominous one all things considered. Let’s take a deeper look at what’s going on entering the last weekend of football pertaining to the 2021-22 season.
First things first: Burnley are facing a very dark outcome if they can’t put on a reasonably good performance on Sunday. It is what it is, and there’s no sugarcoating that. It’s rather interesting finding the Clarets in this position given their recent past, although it must be said that they haven’t caught a break after COVID came galloping to unbalance all ecosystems around the globe.
Burnley got promoted to the Premier League in 2014 and although they couldn’t help themselves from finishing 19th the next season and getting back down to the Championship, they bounced back and finished 1st in 2016 getting promoted once again. After that, it’s been six seasons in the top-flight division for Burnley—with a top-7 finish baked into that run in the 2018 campaign, the club’s best position ever in the league.
Things got rocky for Burnley last year as they dodged relegation by one position—but 11 points total. Two of the promoted sides from last year’s Championship (Norwich and Watford) couldn’t keep up with the Premier League giants this season, but Brentford is 11th... and opening a spot for some old pal to drop down a level. The two teams in danger entering the final weekend of the season: Leeds and Burnley, both with 35 points on the table.
Burnley had a nice-enough chance of entering Sunday’s finale with some padding had they defeated Aston Villa last Thursday, but it didn’t happen for the Clarets. Both teams had a few chances here and there, but Burnley could only score via penalty while Villa were the stronger side back then, forgiving Burnley and allowing them to still sit at the 17th spot. Everton’s huge comeback against Crystal Palace sealed the Toffees' Premier League future, while Leeds has been out and waiting since their draw to Brighton last Sunday.
Both teams are in a very similar form these days, although, of course, the level of competition they’ve faced of late is miles away from each other. While there was not a real chance for Newcastle to defeat Liverpool (respectable game) and Manchester City (bad effort), the victory over Arsenal and those over Norwich City and Crystal Palace were needed and easily accomplished, guaranteeing Newcastle’s presence in the Premier League next season. Burnley, on the other hand, got trounced by Aston Villa, most recently draw against them (one point earned out of a potential six-point bounty), and suffered to defeat already-relegated Watford and Wolves. Not the most optimal run. Alas: the Clarets’ precarious situation.
The history between these two clubs is actually quite balanced in head-to-head matches with Newcastle barely edging Burnley. In fact, while the Magpies got the better of the Clarets in their most recent affair, it was Burnley that grabbed an EFL Cup victory last August (3-4 on penalties) leaving Men in Black and White out of contention as soon as the second round arrived.
Things have changed a lot since then, at least for the lads from Tyneside who are playing for nothing more than a top-half finish this weekend while their foes find themselves stuck in the middle of a relegation battle. Leeds are visiting Brentford after having drawn two games and lost three more in their past five games. Burnley have not kept a clean sheet since Apr. 24 against Wolves and have scored two or more goals in just two of their last eight games. The last time Newcastle played away from SJP against a beatable side—in other words: not counting Man. City—they dumped three goals on Norwich. Looks like a tough one for Burnley this weekend with their chances relying on a Leeds stumble rather than on snatching anything positive from their game against the Magpies.
The Guardian’s guess at the Starting XIs from the Geordie Lads and the Clarets.
- Not Available: Jonjo Shelvey (calf), Joe Willock (knee), and Federico Fernandez (Achilles). Not in the 25-man squad: Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, and Jamal Lewis.
- Not included in the bullet point above are Ryan Fraser (hamstring), Chris Wood (groin), Fabian Schär (concussion), and Javier Manquillo (chickenpox). Fraser played last Monday off the bench with Schar starting but leaving five minutes into the second half following the concussion protocol. Wilson started in place of Wood and that will probably be the case once more whether Wood is fit or not.
- Other than Schar, who is pending availability and would need to go through the concussion tests positively, The Guardian is going chalky all across the pitch with their prediction—no real surprises and just the Best XI to go all-in against Burnley.
- The Guardian acknowledges Schar's dubious status not boldening his name in the formation chart. Makes sense. If Schar misses the game, then it will be Lascelles taking on his place as one of the two starting CBs on Sunday. If not, Lascelles will have to wait and leave the pain (or not) eventually. Trippier is part of the starting lineup, and so he was last Monday when I wrote my preview and expect him to be part of the get-go squad. Didn’t happen, with Emile Krafth taking on starting duties. With just one game left, and even trying to avoid any and every potential risk when it comes to injuries, I’m betting on a start again when it comes to Trips. We’ll see how that goes, and keep in mind of course that it’d depend on his fitness and readiness to play, of course.
- Not a lot to say about the midfield trio with Shelvey and Willock banged up and most probably done for the season. If Howe is about not risking a thing—as it seems to be the case—then those two are sitting this one out opening the full door to a couple of Brazilians and Sean Longstaff. Nothing to hate about that.
- Allan Saint-Maximin is coming off his best game of the season, or if not, at least one of his best three or five through the whole campaign by a mile. He danced all over Arsenal, so there is nothing stopping him from driving Burnley’s defensive line hella mad. I didn’t even mention Callum Wilson in last game’s Seahorse Awards top-3 players favoring ASM, so just imagine!
- On the other wing, Almirón is the most industrial of guys out there but I’m not 100% convinced he will start. He makes more sense to me to feature in the starting squad because Burnley will be fresh and he’s a goddamn lung in the right flank of the pitch willing to sacrifice offense in the name of backtracking if needed—and you know the Clarets will be pushing for those safety-sealing goals. All of that said, Ryan Murphy looked phenomenal along with Fraser/ASM/Willson so I wouldn’t really throw him off the equation. Also, he might be retained next season for depth, and with Fraser banged up a bit he’s the next-in-line player available.
- Wood might not be fit, and Wood is definitely not the striker this team needs. As simple as that,; I’m sorry to upset you if you think he is. Wood has a diametrically opposite game to that Howe’s system asks for, and when a quick/fast/unrelenting/pushing trio made of ASM/Bruno/Wilson and even the couple of Joelinton/Almirón goes bulldozing their way forward on the counter they are lethal. Wood is a freaking slug in that type of action and reminds me of Shaq running up and down the floor when he was mollywashed and already playing for the Celtics. Keep him warm on the bench, and if you need to bomb crosses in this or any other game, then deploy him. Other than that, he can go down the hell to play with the reserves. I guess every successful takeover has someone to point to and laugh about when it comes to first-window signings...
When and Where’s flowin’
- Date: Sunday, May 22
- Time: 11:00 am ET, 4:00 pm UK
- Location: Turf Moor, Burnley
- TV: Talksport 2 Radio UK, BBC Radio Newcastle (UK), Peacock, Golf Channel (USA), DAZN (Canada)
For all your international watching needs, check LiveSoccerTV.com.
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Coming Home, Crystal Ball: Burnley 0 - 3 Newcastle
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Howay the Lads!