Following Saturday’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Burnley, the Magpies find themselves in 8th place and on the fringes of the fabled European spots with an impending Champions League duel with PSG on the horizon this week.
As chronicled here, Newcastle’s confident win was among a number of results over the weekend that set the stage for a pivotal MD8 next weekend that will foreshadow how the rest of the season could shake out as teams deal with mounting player suspensions and injuries.
On top of the table, Manchester City still lead by one point despite a 2-1 loss to Wolverhampton. Combined with crashing out of the Carabao Cup to Eddie Howe earlier this week, it marks the first time since last January that Pep Guardiola’s Cityzens have lost two matches in a row. It was a result that seemed almost destined, as it keeps the margin between 1st place and 6th at only three points. As fate would have it, Manchester City will now travel to the Emirates and battle Arsenal FC on Sunday.
It’s a fitting clash for Arsenal, with manager Mikel Arteta desperate to shed the Pep understudy role following their late-season collapse last season that saw Manchester City overtake them for the league in the waning weeks of the season. Also fitting, is that Arsenal and their hated North London neighbors Tottenham FC find themselves in 2nd and 3rd place with identical 5-2-0 records and 17 points each, nipping at the heels of Manchester City’s 18.
Tottenham will be expected to pick up an easy three points when they travel to Luton Town, who must first complete a makeup game vs. Burnley on Tuesday. Tuesday’s showdown pits two relegation-fodder teams desperate for points face to face, and Tottenham should reap the benefits of opening the weekend on Saturday.
Rounding out the top four is Liverpool FC at 16 points, who sit as the sentinel to the Champion’s League gate this season. Despite their accumulating red card woes, Liverpool look to have wisely used last season to hibernate and chart a path for the return to glory this season. They utilized the summer to sign Alexis Macallister and Dominik Szoboszlai (it still hurts we missed that one) and generate a potent midfield to combine with their ferocious attack.
We haven’t defeated Liverpool since 2015, and it’s my expectation that Howe will need to find a way to walk away from Anfield with points in his pocket on December 30th to get that psychological monkey off the team’s back if we are to get back into the Champion’s League next season.
Rounding out the top of the table are Aston Villa, Brighton, Newcastle, and… West Ham. While it would be easy to attribute the Hammer’s early season success to a favorable schedule, they did notch 3-1 triumphs over Chelsea FC and Brighton already this Fall. Sitting one spot and one point ahead of Newcastle, West Ham have a short injury report and a number of players relishing the opportunity to prove themselves following their Record Sale of Declan Rice this summer. With the International Break looming and Sven Botman and Callum Wilson Sitting out Until the end of the Break, the battle will be a pivotal one for a depleted Newcastle.
As for Brighton and Aston Villa, it certainly seems like both squads have embarked on similar quests to Newcastle’s this season. Both have managers with strong tactical acumen, and young rosters that will need to evolve to withstand the rigors of midweek European matches and Cups. The three sides appear to be entrenched in a deadly three-way dance this Fall, with Newcastle opening the season with a 5-1 demolition vs. Villa, only to be systematically destroyed by Brighton themselves. Meanwhile, Villa poured gasoline on the rivalry with a 6-1 smashing of Brighton over the weekend, as they look ahead to a face-off with Liverpool this coming matchday.
Only six points separate Newcastle from the top of the table, and should the Magpies escape the visit of Paris this Wednesday unscathed, next weekend should shape up to be a monumental 48 hours for themselves and the rest of the league.
Where do you think we’ll end up as we head to the second international break? Do you think it’s still way too early to be looking that ahead? Will Chelsea or Manchester United ever get their growing list of issues in order? Do you even care!?