Am I nervous? No. Am I concerned? No. Am I antsy? No. Am I worried? No. So on and so forth.
It’s only three games left in the schedule for Newcastle. It’s just nine points available, and the Magpies are this close to clinching a Champions League berth for next season as they’ve been in forever. But again, the lads have yet to play three more games.
That might have felt like a tiny amount of football. A little slice of the never-ending Premier League’s full fixture. Now, though? The season can’t be over soon enough with NUFC holding on to a top-4 spot.
If you have checked our pre-match press conference post—and probably even if you’ve not, too—you are well aware of the little picture that has been making the rounds of late and heading into this week’s slate of games. Yes, I’m talking about the “Race for Top 4” one. It’s a comprehensive summary of everything is ahead and how things are looking for all third-through-sixth clubs, and good for NUFC they’re currently leading the pack.
Let me throw it down here because that’d make things easier to understand.
As you see, Thursday’s matchup between Newcastle and Brighton could be considered the most impactful and important for all four teams still in a position to qualify for the UCL. It’s the only game pitting two of those four teams against each other through the remaining four (for Brighton) matchdays.
Coincidentally, Brighton and Liverpool are both outside of the top-4 and also have played one too few and one too many games compared to Newcastle and Man Utd. Let’s run through some potential scenarios to see where NUFC find themselves with just three games left on their schedule.
- The worst-case scenario for the Magpies if they lose the game against Brighton doesn’t change anything for them in their chase for Champions League football. Brighton would have 61 points on 35 games and Newcastle would still enter the weekend in third place with one more game played than ManU and the same number as Liverpool. — NUFC 66, MUN 66 | LIV 65, BRI 61
- Let’s keep working around the worst possible outcome. Newcastle lose to Leicester and all other three contenders beat their opponents on this weekend. Newcastle would wake up outside of the top 4 next Tuesday (the Magpies visit Leicester on Monday). — MUN 69, LIV 68 | NUFC 66, BRI 64
- Newcastle would be looking at a daunting last matchday against Chelsea if they lose their next two games. They would only have one last shot at getting three points and jumping inside the top 3... but that’d still depend on Liverpool’s and Man Utd's results against Southampton and Chelsea+Fulham respectively. NUFC would need Liverpool to lose against last-place Southampton while beating Chelsea themselves... or ManU to lose both of their games while Newcastle beat Chelsea to tie them at 69 points but jump above on goal difference. Not happening.
- All of the above is also true if Newcastle draws one of their next two games and losses the other one. That’s mostly because even with one fewer game played, Brighton would need to virtually win out their remaining schedule to make a serious push toward a top-4 finish. I wouldn’t worry too much about them, even if NUFC loses against the Seagulls on Thursday.
- So it all comes down to earning three of the remaining nine points for Newcastle, whether that’s via 1W2L or 3D. It doesn’t really matter. Newcastle basically needs three points, but failing at earning even one of those three points would make things very complicated when it comes to clinching a top-4 place and a Champions League berth.
- The three points wouldn’t officially clinch a UCL place, mind you, but they would force Liverpool to earn four points of six (they only have two games left in their schedule) and outscore Newcastle in the GD table (currently +4 NUFC).
- Chalky prediction: NUFC beat Leicester, Liverpool beat Southampton, Man Utd beat Bournemouth. Table after that: NUFC 69, MUN 69 | LIV 68
- Other than those three kinda-predictable outcomes, nothing is really predictable at all. Aston Villa has put on a hella strong second half of the season but Liverpool is slashing through it too. The London clubs (Chelsea and Fulham) are the most random thing ever. If we assume Chelsea earns the same result against ManU and NUFC, then everything comes down to whatever Newcastle do against Brighton and ManU do against Fulham. Brighton are 6th, Fulham are 10th.
After all of the mindfuck I wrote about above, which I don’t even think makes any sense at all, the thing is that Newcastle better beat Brighton today and breathe a sigh of relief (at least a bit) for the next week and change... or they will be nothing but assured to miss on that top-4 spot.
It might sound harsh, and it’s just a virtual scenario with plenty of games yet to be played between the four teams still fighting for such a place, but it’s as real as it gets. You don’t want to find yourself in a position of danger on the last matchday, let alone in one in which you don’t even depend on your own result but actually on those from other teams around you... with ManU and Liverpool going against mid-to-bottom half teams in Fulham and Southampton while NUFC would be playing Chelsea on the road. Nope.
Howe took to the microphones and addressed the most pressing questions by the media on Tuesday, hours before the Magpies host the Seagulls at St James’ Park in a game scheduled for Thursday, May 18th.
You can read everything Howe had to say here, as part of our pre-match coverage.
FotMob.com prediction for the probable Starting XIs from the Magpies and the Seagulls is in, so let’s go through what could be coming from Newcastle’s Eddie Howe.
- Not Available: Krafth (knee), Lascelles (hamstring), Ritchie (knee), Longstaff (ankle), Fraser (ostracized)
- Doubtful: —
- Most of the talk I already did in the first part of this post. It’s all about beating Brighton today, and the lads better enter SJP with that in mind today if they don’t want to face a very murky future when it comes to clinching a long-coveted and desired top-4 place when all is said and done. Yes, that’s even if they beat the easy-peasy Leicester next Monday, which would mean nearly nothing if they lose against Brighton on Thursday.
- It’d be stupid to say that Eddie Howe—or any manager in his position for that matter—would tinker with his lineup on such a crucial matchday. It’s a do-or-die situation for NUFC, so expect the strongest XI that Howe can field to make it to the pitch this evening.
- Which players that “strongest” XI will include is an entirely different conundrum, though. The only thing we know for sure is that Sean Longstaff won’t feature as he’s still recovering from his foot injury.
- Same goalie, same defenders (barring an unexpected Matt Targett appearance in exchange for an exhausted Dan Burn), same midfield trio—Joe Willock, Bruno, Joelinton—and on the forwards' line... what, exactly?
- Longstaff has not been available for the last three matches with Joelinton taking his midfield position. In those three games, Howe used forward lines featuring Gordon/Murphy/Isak (3-1 vs. Southampton), Isak/Murphy/Wilson (0-2 vs. Arsenal), and Isak/Almiron/Wilson (2-2 vs. Leeds).
- The only player to feature in the last three games to varying outcomes has been Alexander Isak, and I don’t think he’s left off the XI today in such a high-stakes matchup. Callum Wilson has scored all goals (including two penalties) by a Newcastle player in those games—he’s in even if the Isak-Wilson pairing hasn’t really worked wonders and it tended to work better with Wilson coming off the pine and Isak as the lone striker from the get-go. Who starts on the right wing is the biggest question mark.
- It’s mad crazy that we’re making this call, but Jacob Murphy is the player whose performances have been the best through the past few weeks. Allan Saint-Maximin won’t be deployed on the right flank and Anthony Gordon is still going through some growing pains under Howe’s guidance and system and is just a second-half reliever. Miguel Almiron would have been the easy pick before April but he’s only started two games in the last month and he’s been subpar.
CHN Predicted Lineup
DEF Trippier - Schar - Botman - Burn
MID Joelinton - Bruno - Willock
WNG Murphy - Isak
- Date: Thursday, May 18th
- Kick-off: 19:30 BST / 14:30 EST
- Location: St James’ Park, Newcastle (England)
- Broadcasts: fuboTV (CAN) — nbcsports.com, NBC Sports App, USA Network (USA) — Sky Ultra HD, Sky Sports Premier League, TalkSport Radio UK, SKY GO Extra, Sky Sports Main Event (UK)
For all your international watching needs, check LiveSoccerTV.com.
Please do not share or discuss links to illegal streams here.
Howay the Lads!