2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 — Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)

With multiple irons in the fire and a top-four spot to defend, Chelsea look to bounce back from a tough Carabao Cup loss Saturday when they host relegation-threatened Newcastle United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Eds note — replace Atsu for Muto on Newcastle left wing

The turn of the calendar year saw no let-up in the fixture list for the Pensioners, who were held to a draw at Southampton in their first league match of 2019. They followed that with a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup as Alvaro Morata had a second-half brace.

Tuesday, though, was a different story as Chelsea (13-5-3) lost 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinals. Harry Kane’s contested penalty on 27 minutes was all that separated the London sides, with manager Maurizio Sarri taking heart in the fact the tie was still delicately balanced and Chelsea played far better than they did in a 3-1 loss to Spurs in late November in which they were bossed all over Wembley.

“We deserved more because in this match we played better than the opponents,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “We were in control of the match and defended well against a team dangerous in the offensive phase, so we deserved more. We played about 70 balls in the opposition box against 11 balls of Tottenham in our box, 18 shots against seven I think, five goal opportunities against two, so we deserve more.

“So I am really disappointed with the result but very happy with the performance, one of the most important of the season from my team.”

Sarri had issue with the penalty awarded Kane, noting the original call of Spurs being offsides should have stood as opposed to VAR overturning it after Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga upended the England international. As someone who dealt with VAR while managing Napoli in Italy, Sarri dryly noted, “I think they need to study better this system.”

Chelsea already made a splash in the transfer market with the acquisition of Borussia Dortmund winger Christian Pulisic for next season, but for the January window, the London side are the subjects of constant speculation. Notably absent from Tuesday’s 18-man roster was Morata, with rumours of him returning to Spain with Sevilla bandied about.

There is talk of Sarri being reunited with Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan from Napoli to AC Milan, with reports Higuain’s agent is in London to hammer out some sort of deal. Bayern Munich continue to be in pursuit of winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is making himself more indispensable to Sarri with each passing performance.

The good news for Sarri is two of the players currently in his squad – centre-forward Olivier Giroud and winger Pedro – should be available for starting duties after both came off the bench Tuesday. Giroud would allow Hazard to go back on the wing as opposed to the false nine spot Sarri has used the Belgium international more of late.

Newcastle United (4-6-11) could only hope to have such names associated with them bandied about in the transfer rumour mill as manager Rafa Benitez begins yet another window with hat in hand to owner Mike Ashley looking for any sort of reinforcements to help in the relegation scrap to stay afloat for a third consecutive season in 2019-20.

The Magpies have been linked with a possible move for winger Miguel Almiron, the Paraguay international who recently helped Atlanta United win the MLS Cup in just their second season in the top flight of American football. Atlanta is reportedly asking for a minimum of £24 million for the 24-year-old Almiron, who totaled 21 goals and 28 assists in 62 league matches the last two seasons, a figure that would finally break Newcastle’s transfer record of £16.5 million for Michael Owen in 2005.

“He is an amazing player, he was one of the best players on the pitch in both of the All-Star games that we played against Juventus and Real Madrid,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales recently told SkySports. “I have no doubt that when the time is right and the offer is right, he can be a success in whatever league he goes to.”

As Newcastle look to find reinforcements, Benitez must find a way to come up with points against the Big Six to aid in the relegation scrap. The Toons have yet to take any of a possible 21 from their first seven such contests after a 2-0 loss at Manchester United on Jan. 2. Some solace can be taken in Newcastle being a better road side than at home this term, collecting 11 of their 18 points (2-5-3) outside St James’ Park.

The expectation is Benitez will stay with the five-man backline he has used in league play for the last four league matches as well as the teams at the top of the table. Newcastle United will be without winger Kenedy for this match since he is ineligible to face his parent club, perhaps opening the door for Christian Atsu to play on the wing and move Ayoze Perez into a central playmaking role.

The ultra-conservative tactics nearly got Newcastle a point in the reverse fixture against Chelsea, who were gifted a 2-1 win when Newcastle right back DeAndre Yedlin deflected a shot by Marcos Alonso into his own net on 87 minutes. Hazard had staked the Pensioners to a lead on 76 minutes from the spot before the Magpies equalised through Joselu with seven minutes remaining.

Chelsea are 5-1-1 in their last seven versus Newcastle in all competitions and have won six on the bounce at Stamford Bridge since a 2-0 loss in 2012. The Magpies are a woeful 2-6-17 in their trips to Chelsea in the Premier League era, with the other triumph coming in the 2010-11 League Cup.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Chelsea are 2/9 favourites to complete the double over Newcastle, who are 16/1 longshots to beat a Big Six side for the first time in eight tries this term. The odds of a draw to give the Magpies their first point in such contests are 6/1.

Oddsmakers are expecting Chelsea to find a way to breach Newcastle’s defence, with 4/6 odds on clearing 2.5 goals compared to 6/5 odds on going under. There are 1/2 odds there will be a clean sheet in either direction, compared to a 6/4 offering on both sides scoring.

Unsurprisingly, Hazard leads the list of options for first goal-scorers, getting 13/5 odds to do it in both matches between the teams. Giroud, who may or may not start, is second at 10/3, while Morata rounds out the top three at 4/1. Chelsea, in fact, occupy the first 14 slots on the list for the first goal before there is a Rondon sighting at 18/1 along with Joselu. Hudson-Odoi is a 9/2 selection, followed by Willian (5/1) and Pedro (11/2).

Hazard and Giroud are better than even money odds at 4/5 and 5/6, respectively, to score at any time during the contest. Morata is again third at 11/10, with Hudson-Odoi (5/4) and Willian (7/5) completing the top five. Rondon and Joselu are again paired together, this time at 11/2, to score over the course of 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

What a difference a better performance makes. After looking like he wanted to run away and hide from the world after his side’s first loss to Spurs, Sarri was in much better spirits after Tuesday’s loss, and with good reason. The Pensioners took the fight to their London rivals for almost the entire hour after Kane’s penalty, denied once by the woodwork and also by some competent goaltending from Spurs deputy Paolo Gazzaniga.

This is a chance for Chelsea to reinforce what worked in that game, though it may also be a chance for Sarri to find out once and for all whether or not he wants to keep Morata or off-load him for a different centre-forward. Holding him out of Tuesday’s contest on the heels of a brace was puzzling unless there is a deal to send him back to a La Liga side. But given how Chelsea refused to let Cesc Fabregas leave for Monaco until Friday, it seems unlikely Morata will not at worst be on the bench for this game or possibly start.

Newcastle will be Newcastle in this match, which is every bit the backhanded compliment it is intended to be. The Magpies will defend resolutely and stubbornly, perhaps release Ritchie and Yedlin down the flanks on the occasional counter, but they will cede too much possession to Chelsea (again) and be suspectible to crosses in the box from Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as opposed to the wingers given how compact the two lines will be.

It is understood Benitez is simply doing what he can with what he has, and it continues to be a source of frustration throughout Tyneside and the Toon Army given his coaching acumen in contrast to what he is given to work with considering the spendthrift ways of Ashley.

This match, as Agent Smith best said in The Matrix, “is the sound of inevitability.”

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 3, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)

New boys Wolverhampton have proved they can punch above their weight class, but the challenge for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side Sunday at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United is maintaining that level of play against their peers.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The “Other 14” clubs of the Premier League have gone a combined 3-5-51 against the Big Six through the first 15 matches of the season, and Wolves (5-4-6) have claimed one of those victories and three of those draws. They picked up a vital three points midweek, rallying to defeat Chelsea 2-1 on goals by Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota four minutes apart in the second half.

The victory ended a six-match winless drought in league play during which they claimed just one point, and it was all the more impressive considering they played without their best midfielder Ruben Neves – who returns for this contest after serving a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.

“We knew it was going to be hard coming into the season,” defender Ryan Bennett told Wolves’ official website. “Obviously with the teams which are in this league there were always going to be points when things would be tough. But it’s about how you get through them, and we managed to do that the other night against Chelsea, so it’s nice to be back on track.

“The aim is to get three points, that’s how we go into every game. We found it tough in the last couple of games, against Huddersfield and Cardiff, but with a good result at Chelsea we want to take that into the game at Newcastle, which is going to be a tough place to go. But it’s a game we look at to try and get all three points.”

The win over Chelsea showed the potential Wolverhampton have – many consider them to be one of the best promoted sides of the Premier League era – but their November struggles that included losses to relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City also showed just what kind of grind the top flight is according to the defender.

“You look at the sort of dip we just had, and it makes you realise how hard it is in this league, but we’ve got a pretty good perspective of where we’ve come from and how hard it is, but we’ll be trying to achieve that top ten finish and we’ll see what happens.”

Nuno made three changes to the starting XI that lost to Cardiff City, but the insertion of teenager Morgan Gibbs-White in the midfield for his first Premier League start to replace the suspended Neves proved influential. Gibbs-White, who captained England to the U-17 World Cup title last year, has logged 734 minutes since winning that tournament – the most of any player in the starting XI from that win over Spain.

Nuno has yet to start Gibbs-White and Neves together, only bringing the starlet off the bench thus far.

While Wolves have shown the technical ability and talent to play with the top sides, Newcastle United (3-4-8) get by on graft and the guile of manager Rafa Benitez. The Magpies have yet to nick a point from the Big Six – losing all five of those matches by one goal – but came out of Merseyside with a credible 1-1 draw midweek versus Everton.

Salomon Rondon continued his fine form with a goal in the 19th minute, his third in four matches, but Newcastle conceded before halftime. Christian Atsu had a gilt-edged chance in the closing minutes inside the penalty area but saw his low shot parried by Toffees keeper Jordan Pickford.

The draw marked the fifth time in six matches (3-2-1) Newcastle gained at least a point as they have finally kicked on from their dismal start that was top-loaded. One of Benitez’s challenges now is to carry that road form into consistent play at home – the Magpies were denied a third consecutive win at St James’ last time out with a 3-0 defeat to West Ham United last weekend.

“We have to be a team that is compact, well organised and difficult to break down,” Benitez noted in his Friday news conference. “That is the main thing if you want to win games or get results.”

Benitez will be forced into one change for this contest since centre back Fabian Schar picked up his fifth yellow card in the draw versus Everton and will serve his one-match ban. It is a somewhat dubious achievement considering the Switzerland international has played only six league matches and accrued his five cautions in 484 minutes.

On the positive side, winger Matt Ritchie will return after serving his yellow card ban, and Paul Dummett should be available at left back after resuming training following a hamstring injury. Further up the left side, Kenedy is also expected to be available after missing out midweek with a toe injury.

The improved player availability means Benitez may be able to go to his traditional four at the back after using a 5-4-1 set-up versus the Toffees. The Magpies manager singled out talisman Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey for their patience and veteran leadership as the two have struggled for first-team playing time in recent contests.

“They know they have to wait and keep pushing to get back in the team,” Benitez said when asked about them. “I think they understand that a team that was winning and in the position they were needed support behind the scenes and they were doing that.”

The teams have not met since playing in the Championship in the 2016-17 season. The road team won both matches, and Newcastle recorded a 2-0 victory in the third round of the League Cup.

Wolves have never beaten Newcastle in Premier League play, though the sides have split the points in four of their six top-flight meetings. Neither team have recorded a clean sheet in those matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Wolves are slight favourites to bring all three points back to Molineux with 17/10 odds, rating slightly better than the Magpies (19/10). The draw is the longshot of the trio at 11/4.

Oddsmakers are not expecting the sides to ring up the goals, as there are 4/7 odds the total will stay under 2.5 compared to 11/8 odds to cross over that threshold. There are also 3/4 odds there will be at least one clean sheet compared to an even money pick for both teams to score.

Despite making the trip to St James’ Park, Wolves have the top three options for first-goal scoring honours — Jimenez (11/2) and Jota (13/2) flanking Leo Bonatini (6/1). Newcastle’s top two picks are exactly who you would expect — Rondon and Joselu — and both are 7/1 picks. Magpies playmaker Ayoze Perez has 15/2 odds while Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Yoshinori Muto are all a step back at 8/1.

Jimenez also leads the line to score over the course of the match at 21/10, followed by Bonatini (9/4) and Jota (5/2). Rondon and Joselu are both 11/4, while Perez, Cavaleiro, Costa and Muto are all 3/1 picks to bag a goal.

PREDICTION

This is a very curious match of tactics and managers and managers’ tactics. Newcastle United appear to be as close to full strength as they have been in weeks as Kenedy and Dummett are available. Whether Benitez restores Shelvey to the starting XI is yet to be seen after he did so with Lascelles last match, but there are options, and when Benitez has options, he’s at his best.

There is something about Wolverhampton that smarter people than myself have noted of late, claiming the reason Wolves have fared so well against the higher-placed teams is because there is more technical football being played. That is also a backhanded dig that Wolves do not have the cynicism or desire to get down and dirty and apply the graft to get those points against their peers. Results lend credence to this argument, but this is a match where Newcastle could play either way and test Wolves to see how they either stick or twist.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 1, Wolverhampton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 Preview — Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)

St James’ Park has not been a happy hunting ground for no one tied to Newcastle United this season – not for owner Mike Ashley, manager Rafa Benitez, nor the players and supporters. The Magpies look to stop the bleeding and pick up their first home point of the season Saturday when they host a resurgent Watford side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Newcastle (0-3-7) are ahead of the only other winless team in the top flight – Huddersfield Town – on goal difference. The Magpies have lost four of their five matches at home by one goal, with three of those coming against the “Big Six.” They have yet to lead at St James’ Park and have been ahead for just 69 minutes combined in all their competitions.

That has taken a toll on all parties involved on Tyneside, with Benitez saying Newcastle had to “find three teams worse than us” following the last home loss a fortnight ago to Brighton and Hove Albion. Some of the discontent was soothed in the form of a scoreless draw at Southampton last weekend, but the Magpies’ woes up front were again laid bare as strikers Yoshinori Muto and Salomon Rondon failed to find an answer against an organised Saints defence and Newcastle failed to register a shot on target.

The struggles have led to more fan discontent, as Magpie Group supporters are planning protests for two home matches in December. Benitez is trying to act as peacekeeper between supporters and players knowing the former prefer him over Ashley, while the latter continue to hold him in the highest respect.

“Our fans are quite clever,” Benítez told The Times. “They know where we are, they know the situation. What they expect is a team that works really hard. You could see them cheering and supporting the team until the end. They appreciate that. At the same time, everybody – the manager, the players – wants to see good players playing well. But they know that is not the case. What they have to do and are doing already is to support the team.”

This is the portion of the schedule where the Magpies must make hay – they played five of the “Big Six” in their first eight matches, and they do not face Liverpool until a Boxing Day visit to Anfield. The fact Newcastle were second-best for most of the match against Southampton and still able to earn an away point gives Benitez optimism his side can turn the tide.

“It means sometimes when you don’t play really well you can still get something,” Benítez said of their schedule. “Against the top sides, if you don’t play well normally, you lose. But with the other teams . . . you could see today without playing very well we could get a draw. We have to be mentally strong, carry on and in January if we are in a good position we can hopefully improve and see what we need.”

Rondon’s return after a three-match absence due to a thigh injury makes him a likely candidate to supplant Muto and lead the line in Newcastle’s 4-4-1-1 set-up. The Magpies have not scored at St James’ Park since Ciaran Clark’s stoppage-time goal in a 2-1 loss to Arsenal on Sept. 15, and they’ve gone 260 minutes without a marker since Muto’s goal gave Newcastle United a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford in a 3-2 defeat Oct. 6.

Watford (6-1-3) enter this contest seventh in the table, three points out of the top four and looking to win a third match on the bounce. The Hornets, who looked so irresistible in victories in their first five matches in all competitions and then so insipid in a five-match winless spell, have re-discovered the winning formula coming of the most recent international break.

Javi Gracia’s side followed up a 2-0 victory at Wolverhampton with a 3-0 romp at home past Huddersfield Town last weekend. Like the win over Wolves, it was a pair of quick strikes that set the tone as Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu scored nine minutes apart before the match was 20 minutes in. The wins are all the more impressive considering first-choice striker Troy Deeney missed both with a hamstring injury.

With 19 points through their first 10 matches, the Hornets are off to their best start since the 1982-83 season, when they finished runners-up to Liverpool following promotion to the First Division under the late Graham Taylor. Gracia, though, is hellbent on keeping his players grounded and trying to simply get through each match without paying attention to history and the table.

“I don’t spend much time looking at the table. That is not good for us. It is better to be focused on the next game and try to do our best,” the gaffer told the club’s official website. “I don’t think we will be the champion. We are going to enjoy every game and make the supporters proud of us. We’ll see what we are able to do. In all the games, I am sure we are going to make a big effort to get the best results.”

Like the Magpies, Watford have a chance to make the most of this patch of schedule ahead of the next international break. The Hornets play at Southampton next week, and the Saints — like Newcastle — are struggling to score goals.

“I prefer to enjoy every game,” Gracia said. “I am very demanding and the best way to achieve a good future is to focus on the present and do our best. It’s our mentality to be demanding. I don’t send much time looking at the table or if we achieve a new record. We have many things to improve.”

Deeney should at least be available for this match, while Gracia has some decisions to make about his back line as first-choice regulars Jose Holebas and Christian Kabasele did not regain their spots after both served one-match bans in the win over Wolverhampton. Kabasele made a late runout against Huddersfield while Holebas was an unused substitute.

Watford did the double over Newcastle last term and have won five on the bounce against the Magpies in all competitions. The Hornets cruised to a 3-0 win at St James’ where Will Hughes and Andre Gray scored on either side of halftime and bracketed Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin’s own goal in first-half stoppage time.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, this game is a toss-up as both Watford and Newcastle have 17/10 odds to take all three points. A draw has slightly longer odds at 21/10. Watford are rated slightly higher for a win with more than 2.5 goals at 4/1, while the Magpies have 19/5 odds. In turn, the Toons are 4/1 odds to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline, just better than the Hornets at 21/5. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has emerged as a favourite with 27/10 odds compared to 12/1 odds for a 2-2 draw or higher deadlock.

There are four top options at 6/1 for first-goal honours — two belong to Newcastle in strikers Joselu and Rondon, while Deeney gets top billing for Watford. The “no scorer” option is a co-favourite at 6/1 odds. There are three Hornets just off the top at 13/2 — Andre Gray, Isaac Success and Gerard Deulofeu — along with Muto for the Magpies.

Joselu and Rondon lead the line for any-time goal-scorers at 9/4, narrowly ahead of Deeney at 23/10. The aforementioned Watford trio are listed at 12/5, while Muto comes in right behind them at 12/5.

PREDICTION

What may be the most amazing thing about Newcastle’s woes at home is that the atmosphere is not totally toxic around St James’. That is a testament to Benitez walking the fine line with his supporters, who are booing the outcomes more than the players’ effort…and all the while loathing Ashley with the fury of a thousand suns.

But back to the pitch. Newcastle seem to lack the creativity and personnel to unlock the middle third of the pitch over the centre line. There are times Shelvey can pick off a gnat at 40 yards with a diagonal ball, but there are also times the Magpies simply cannot play the ball through the middle of the park. The goal Muto scored against Manchester United — coincidentally the last goal Newcastle have scored anywhere — are the kind of goals this side need to score to kick on this season and get out of the bottom three.

Yet for all the things Newcastle have not done and do not have through the first 10 matches, this is a winnable contest. Watford have played well in spurts in winning their last two games — goals within two minutes in beating Wolverhampton and two in nine minutes last weekend versus Huddersfield Town. It was enough to restore confidence to Gracia’s side, but in the bigger picture, the Hornets can be a team with designs on a top-half finish through Deulofeu as he grows in confidence and league-level match fitness.

Newcastle need any sort of break, but it does not seem likely it is going to happen here. The defence is fine, but until the offence catches up, it puts too much pressure on the back four to turn in another clean sheet. Watford right now have the flair and creativity to find that moment of magic, and it likely will only take one for a victory.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 0, Watford 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)
Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)

With one victory and 12 goals in 18 league matches between them, things are indeed bleak both on Tyneside and the South Coast for Newcastle United and Southampton, respectively.

It may be too early to call Saturday’s matchup at St Mary’s a six-point relegation belter, but it’s clear both sides are in desperate need of something to jump start their flagging campaigns.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

History continues to mount against Rafa Benitez and Newcastle (0-2-7), who are one of two Premier League sides without a win and off to their worst top-flight start in 120 years. The Magpies became just the fourth such team to lose their first five home games in a season following their 1-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.

The other three – Manchester United (1930-31), Portsmouth (2009-10) and Bolton Wanderers (2011-12) were all relegated.

Benitez’s frustration of not receiving help from Newcastle club owner Mike Ashley in the form of spending in multiple transfer windows gave way to outright despondency over his team’s plight after the most recent loss in which the Spaniard told The Times he hopes “to find three teams worse than us” when it comes to the upcoming relegation scrap.

Ashley was again present at the match, the fourth straight one he has attended, but the atmosphere continues to grow more toxic around St James’ Park as the supporters continue their call for him to sell the team. There was a banner with the word “contempt” written across a picture of Ashley’s laughing face outside the stadium grounds as the club – still without a trophy since 1955 – faces a potential third relegation to the Championship in Ashley’s 12 years of ownership.

Benitez, though, has not lost to the team, and still has support of the most important player of the club – talisman and centre back Jamaal Lascelles.

“I don’t think anyone in the stadium can question the manager about anything,” Lascelles stated. “Whether it’s to do with substitutions, tactics or whatever – they can’t question the manager, because he knows football better than anyone in this whole stadium.

“People might say he should have brought this or that player on, but he’s done it at the top level and won trophies, so he knows. He wants us to play a certain way and if we can’t do that as players, it’s down to us. The gaffer can only deal with what he’s got. As players we’ve got to take responsibility ourselves. We have to get together and talk about it.”

But talking about the lack of goals is not going to make them suddenly appear. Newcastle’s six goals are third-fewest in the top flight, ahead of only Crystal Palace (5) and Huddersfield Town (4), and the squandering of the two goals scored in their devastating loss at Manchester United before the international break only adds to the urgency.

Striker Salomon Rondon returned to training this week after being sidelined the last three matches with a thigh injury, but it is clear Benitez lacks quality options to lead the line as the Venezuela international, Joselu and Yoshinori Muto have combined for four of their seven goals in all competitions.

Southampton (1-3-5) are enduring a similar stretch of futility – Mark Hughes’ side are winless in their last six matches (0-3-3) in all competitions. Their scoring drought in league play reached 385 minutes after a 0-0 draw at Bournemouth last weekend in a South Coast derby, but Hughes was pleased with his team’s attacking intent as they nearly stole three points late.

“We’re not pleased with the one point, because I think we deserved more than that,” Hughes told Southampton’s official website. “I thought in terms of clear cut chances on the day, ours were obviously more clear cut and we had more potential to convert, but in the end it’s a good performance.”

Like Newcastle, the Saints have had issues at home. Southampton have three goals and two points from their four home matches, and with Hughes claiming just 14 points from his 17 matches in charge after taking over to help escape the drop last season, it is clear that there will be another such battle on his hands this term.

“Don’t underestimate the ability of Newcastle because they’re a good side, they’ve got good talent, good pace in the wide area and up to as well,” Hughes warned at his Thursday news conference to The Chronicle Live.

“We’ve got to be ready for a real tough test against Newcastle. I feel we’re ready and we’re confident in what we’re going to do – but it’s important nobody underestimate the threat Newcastle bring.”

Striker Charlie Austin appears to have done enough to retain his starting spot alongside Danny Ings, who is Southampton’s top scorer with three goals in league play and four overall. Hughes is sweating over the fitness of midfielder Mario Lemina, who was forced off against the Cherries due to a knee injury. The other concern for Lemina is he is carrying four yellow cards – the next one will result in an automatic one-match ban.

The Magpies took four points from the two meetings last year, winning 3-0 at home and settling for a 2-2 draw at St Mary’s as Manolo Gabbiadini completed his brace with a penalty on 75 minutes. Newcastle’s lone victory at Southampton in 17 Premier League matches (1-4-12) was a 2-1 triumph in 2004.

PUNTER’S NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Southampton are solid favourites to end their winless ways and extend Newcastle’s, checking in with 21/20 odds to claim all three points. The odds of a draw are  21/10, better than the offering of the Magpies to break their duck at 14/5.

A Saints victory with less than 2.5 goals is the top option for outcomes at 14/5, narrowly edging out one with more than 2.5 goals (29/10). A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has 13/5 odds of occurring, while Newcastle victories offer nice returns for those who fancy an upset — a win with less than 2.5 goals has 11/2 odds, and one of over 2.5 goals has 13/2.

Oddsmakers are also fairly confident Southampton are going to score first is if there is a goal as all four Saints strikers are listed ahead of the no goal-scoring option. Ings unsurprisingly leads the line at 9/2, edging out Austin at 5/1. Gabbiadini and Shane Long lurk behind the pair, both at 11/2, while Newcastle’s trio of forwards — Joselu, Rondon and Muto — all have 15/2 odds to give the Magpies a surprise 0-1 scoreline.

At 7/4, Ings again edges Austin (4/1) as the top option, this time in the any-time goal-scorers, and Gabbiadini and Long are again paired together at 11/5. Joselu and Rondon are also a tandem for Newcastle at 14/5 odds, edging out Muto (3/1)

PREDICTION

If a tree falls at St Mary’s and doesn’t make a sound, did it actually score a goal?

This will be a curious encounter, not for the aesthetics by any stretch of the imagination, but whether either Hughes or Benitez — or both of them — decide to actually play enterprising football and go for three points to try and kick on to this season.

Benitez’s comments after the loss to Brighton are particularly worrisome because for the first time, it showed the grind of trying to scratch out a result every week is taking a toll on him. The fans love him, his players love him, but he’s not going to care nor feel the love until the Magpies are in the win column. Until either one of the aforementioned strikers or one of his attacking midfielders in Kenedy, Ayoze Perez or Matt Ritchie find the back of the net, Newcastle will continue to take on the characteristics of a self-loathing club that cannot get of their own way, and the supporters are going to melt down right with them.

Then there are Southampton, whom this space remains convinced made the wrong decision in retaining Hughes. As The National pointed out, Hughes rate of points per match is now worse than predecessor Mauricio Pellegrino’s, and “Sparky” has done little to instill confidence that rate is going to have a significant uptick in the short or medium-term future because Saints have only played Liverpool and Chelsea among the big six.

And those defeats were 3-0 setbacks that could have had a much worse scoreline, Liverpool barely needed to get out of second gear in their match, and Chelsea were two to the good before the hour. While Newcastle failed to get a point in the five matches they have played against those perennials, they at least doggedly made the opposition work to claim their three points.

Southampton have ebbed and flowed in quality during this winless streak without showing much overall. Yes, the Saints did play better against Bournemouth, but they set the bar so low in the loss to Chelsea before the break, almost anything would have looked better.

This is a match that could turn on creativity, which means it would be an ideal time for Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to find the killer pass forward that potentially separates these teams. But the Magpies are so deep in the muck right now, one fears even converting a penalty would be only a 50-50 proposition as opposed to the usual 80-20 minimum chance of success.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 0, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)

Looking for back-to-back victories for the first time this season, Wilfried Zaha and Crystal Palace look to extend the miseries of Newcastle United on Saturday when they host Rafa Benitez’s side at Selhurst Park.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Zaha is instrumental in any success the Eagles (2-0-3) have had to this point. Much has been made of the fact Palace have lost their last 11 games without the striker dating back to last term after their 2-0 defeat to Southampton a fortnight ago, but Roy Hodgson’s team has also leaned heavily on the Ivory Coast international in the early going.

Zaha has scored three of Crystal Palace’s four goals in league play, and his stellar individual effort that led to a goal in the 38th minute lifted the Eagles to their 1-0 victory at Huddersfield Town last weekend. With that talent, though, comes defenders willing to do whatever it takes to stop Zaha from getting through to goal.

The Palace striker is tied for second in the Premier League with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard with 14 fouls suffered. In the win over Huddersfield, Zaha picked up his third yellow card of the young season before his goal responding to a challenge by Florent Hadergjonaj. After the match, Zaha told BBC’s Match of the Day: “I feel like before anyone gets a red I’d have to get my leg broken or something. That’s why I lose my head. Why am I getting different treatment from other players?

“It makes you not want to go on a run because someone will come through the back of you, and it doesn’t allow you to express yourself.”

Zaha was referring to an incident in Palace’s 2-1 loss at Watford in which Hornets midfielder Etienne Capoue was fortunate not to be sent off on a poor challenge from behind. The team has filed a complaint to the league about their striker not getting the benefit of the doubt for some calls, and Hodgson is doing what he can to keep his forward level-headed.

“He’s getting better and better at that,” the gaffer told Palace’s official website. “He’s got to come to terms with that he’s the type of player that is so good at running with the ball, and we see it with Manchester City and Liverpool players who are quick and good at running with the ball and get fouled.

“Unfortunately, Wilf has a strong sense of justice and doesn’t think that people should treat him that unfairly, but he’s learning quickly.”

Hodgson is expected to keep Jordan Ayew up as part of a 4-3-3 formation that is a slight variance of his traditional 4-4-2. Christian Benteke is expected to miss his second straight league contest with a knee injury. The Belgium international has scored only three goals for Palace since the start of last season after bagging 15 in 2016-17.

Newcastle United (0-1-4), meanwhile, arrive at Selhurst Park ahead of only Burnley on goal difference and happy to be done with a murderous stretch of opening fixtures that saw them claim only a point in a draw against fellow winless side Cardiff City. The losses read off like a list of who’s who among the Premier League: Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, and the hope in Tyneside is the Magpies can finally kick on with their season and move out of the bottom three while playing similar-calibre teams.

“We know it’s very important,” defender Federico Fernandez told Newcastle’s official website. “We have a couple of games against teams who are maybe middle of the table now. It’s no excuse, but in these five games we knew it would be very difficult, against top teams.

“But we’ve approached them well, we’ve played like a team, but we didn’t take anything. Now we need to start taking points, because that’s what we need.

Newcastle have lost four on the trot in all competitions, and their gauntlet ended with a third consecutive 2-1 league loss last weekend at home versus Arsenal. While the Magpies did not bunker and put five in the back like they did in defeats to champions Manchester City and unbeaten Chelsea, they failed to unlock a creaky Arsenal defence until defender Ciaran Clark scored in second-half stoppage time.

One reason for the lack of offence was the absence of playmaker Jonjo Shelvey, who missed his second straight match due to a thigh injury and is questionable for this game. Losing defender and talisman Jamaal Lascelles to an ankle injury did the Magpies no favours either as both Arsenal goals came after he was replaced by Clark at halftime.

Salomon Rondon is expected to be restored to the starting XI after being an unused substitute last weekend. The Venezuela international was second choice to Joselu after his late return from international duty despite contributing an assist in Newcastle’s loss to Manchester City and bagging a brace in a friendly versus Panama.

“We have to get the three points,” Rondon said. “I think, in my opinion, you have to get just one win to get the confidence back. We know it’s a difficult game for us away at Palace, but we have to improve and do our best.

“Everyone knows, with Crystal Palace, how they play. They have quality players, but we have to impose our game and be efficient when we create chances and score goals.”

The teams played to a 1-1 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture as Luka Milivojevic’s penalty 10 minutes after the restart canceled out a first-half goal by Mohamed Diame. Newcastle have taken points in 12 of the 14 previous Premier League clashes (8-4-2) between the sides.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Palace are comfortable favourites at 23/20 odds, with Newcastle United checking in at 5/2 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points is slightly better than a Magpies victory at 11/5.

A Palace win with three or more goals is the leading option at 27/10 odds, closely followed by a draw and under 2.5 goals (29/10). Oddsmakers also believe in Palace’s defence or the lack of Newcastle’s offence as an Eagles win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline is right behind a draw with 10/3 odds. Rafa Benitez’s side are 5/1 to win the match with three or more goals and 11/2 with fewer.

Zaha is an expected favourite for first-goal honours at 5/1, but surprisingly joining him atop the list is Benteke despite his questionable status. Ayew and Palace reserve striker Alexander Sorloth are joint-third at 11/2, with Newcastle’s duo of Rondon and Joselu next in line at 13/2 to open the scoring.

Zaha edges out Benteke for any-time goal-scoring at 9/5 compared to the Belgium’s listing at 19/10. Ayew is listed at 2/1, while winger Andros Townsend returns an intriguing 16/5 payout. Joselu and Rondon are again drawn together, this time with 5/2 odds, with Matt Ritchie at 4/1 and Kenedy at 7/2.

PREDICTION

Everyone wants to talk about Newcastle’s daunting stretch to open the season, but now that it has come and gone, with one point to show for it (though they should have had three), the question now begs… now what?

Benitez did what he could to mitigate the damage and give the Magpies a chance to win three of those four games against last year’s top-six opponents (it is interesting to note the Arsenal game was the one where they fared the worst after moving back to the traditional four-man defence), but how do Newcastle kick on?

Rondon was a surprising omission versus the Gunners, and it is difficult to chalk it up simply to jet lag from North America because DeAndre Yedlin also played in the U.S. and made it back Thursday in time to play the full 90.

Palace have the in-form player of the moment in Zaha, and rage over lack of respect from the officials aside, he has to be the difference-maker for the Eagles to get going at home. Hodgson’s team has lost both their home games thus far, and they need Selhurst Park to be a cauldron to maintain at least a mid-table level.

The Ayew or Benteke debate will be one to watch, with Ayew deserving of at least one more start due to his industry at Huddersfield. If he can find a way to score, it takes some of the pressure off Zaha, though that is also something Andros Townsend should be looking to do.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: CRYSTAL PALACE 1, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Newcastle United (0-1-3) vs. Arsenal (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

Looking for both a third consecutive victory in league play and improvement defensively, Arsenal also hope to extend the struggles of Newcastle United on Saturday when the teams collide at St James’ Park.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The transition from Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery at Arsenal (2-0-2) has had its ups and downs. Emery has held fast to a 4-2-3-1 formation to make the most of his impressive array of attacking options, but the back six when including holding midfielders Granit Xhaka and teenager Matteo Guendouzi have been at times inconsistent, insipid and ineffective.

The Gunners have yet to record a clean sheet, some of which can also be attributed to veteran keeper Petr Cech learning how to play out of the back on the fly, but there have been too many breakdowns to believe Arsenal are going to find a route to the Champions League through domestic play and a top-four finish.

Emery’s faith in Xhaka over summer signing Lucas Torreira continues to be questioned, with the Switzerland international racking up three yellow cards in the four league matches. The push and pull of the two players will continue to be scrutinised as Arsenal embark on their Europa League adventures for a second straight season next week, facing Ukraine side Vorskla in their group opener at home Thursday.

“I appreciate people that want to try and help Arsenal achieve more because I know Arsenal is a team that has to be playing in the Champions League and is a team that has to fight for trophies in England. What we’re trying to do is to bring the Arsenal level back,” winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan said to Arsenal Player.

Emery’s other notable decision before the international break was starting strikers Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang together for the first time, and both players scored in their 3-2 victory at Cardiff City. Lacazette bagged the winner nine minutes from time with a sharp turn in the penalty area before lashing a shot inside the upper near post on the right side.

While he is still at least six weeks away from returning, there was some good news during the international break as defender Laurent Koscielny has resumed practising. The France international ruptured his Achilles in last spring’s Europa League semifinal versus Atletico Madrid, costing him the chance to be on Les Bleus’ World Cup-winning side.

The international break split up a murderous three-match run for Newcastle United (0-1-3), who enter this match looking for a route out of the bottom three. The Magpies took on a defensive shell with five at the back as they tried to nick points from both Chelsea and champions Manchester City in the previous two matches, and while they were level at points in both matches, they failed to secure those draws in back-to-back 2-1 defeats.

Now facing an Arsenal side that has shown to be fragile at the back, the hedge is Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez is going to play positive football and hunt out goals going forward as opposed to solely on the counter. Much of that belief, though, hinges on the availability of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.

Shelvey missed the matches against Chelsea and City due to a thigh problem, and the international break came at an opportune time as Benitez forced the England international to take a break from footballing to get near 100 percent health.

“Jonjo is the kind of player who wants to play in every game and he has been training, but at the same time there is a problem,” Benitez explained to the Chronicle Live. “We don’t talk about his quality, we talk about his fitness. He has the quality to do it, but he has to be fit because we play against another top side who moves the ball very quickly.”

Benitez is not expecting attacking midfielder Matt Ritchie to be available, with veteran Sung-Yueng Ki likely to fill in that spot as the Spaniard vacillates between using a 4-2-3-1 formation and 4-4-1-1 set-up. That “one” in both options would normally have been Salomon Rondon, but with the Venezuela international not expected back to Tyneside until Thursday following his brace in a win over Panama, Joselu could be in the first XI with Rondon among the substitutes.

That also holds true for right back DeAndre Yedlin after he made a late appearance for the United States in their 1-0 victory over Mexico on Tuesday night.

“This period is quite difficult,” Benitez said. “(Christian) Atsu is back now and was training on Tuesday and then on Wednesday we have a couple more problems but DeAndre and Rondon will come late. It will be difficult for us because sometimes they come to us and they say ‘I’m fine’. But they can be tired.”

Newcastle snapped a 10-match losing streak in league play with a 2-1 victory in April in last season’s corresponding fixture as Lacazette and Ayoze Perez traded goals in the first half-hour before Ritchie scored the match-winner on 68 minutes. Arsenal had been unbeaten in their previous 10 visits (6-4-0) to Tyneside in all competitions and 12 matches (10-2-0) overall in the rivalry.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 20/23 odds, and Newcastle are listed at 29/10 to take all three points for the first time this season. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 27/10.

Oddsmakers are sensing Newcastle are vulnerable at the back, evidenced by the 17/10 odds on Arsenal winning with more than 2.5 goals. There are also 4/1 odds for both an Arsenal win under 2.5 goals and a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

Aubameyang is the frontrunner for first-goal honours at 7/2, followed by Lacazette (9/2). Unsurprisingly, Joselu and Rondon share joint-favourite status for the host Magpies to make it 1-0 at 13/2. Aubamyeang is close to even money for a goal over the course of 90 minutes at 11/10, with Lacazette close behind at 6/4. Joselu and Rondon are listed at 21/10 odds to find the back of the net at some point for Newcastle.

PREDICTION

Does he unleash Newcastle? That is the £64,000 question around Tyneside as people posit theories on whether Benitez will let the Magpies venture forward against an Arsenal defence that has had their problems over the first four matches.

One of the issues within Newcastle’s issues is the late return of Rondon from international duty with Venezuela. Play him for only the final half-hour and if Newcastle does not win, the second-guessing for holding him out will be equal or exceed the second-guessing for starting him and he’s ineffective for the first hour or 75 minutes.

Having Shelvey back, though, will be a huge plus for Newcastle. His vision for long diagonal passes could prove vital to stretch Arsenal’s back line or find the gaps between the midfield paring of Xhaka and Guendozui and the back four.

Arsenal’s advantage is that there is nothing about Newcastle’s defence that strikes fear in an opponent. Lascelles is good, yes, but one would expect Aubameyang to give Yedlin a torrid time on the left flank while forming triangles with Ramsey and Lacazette. It may be a case for the third straight match where Newcastle put themselves in position to claim a point but fail to do so late.

Predicted Final Score: Newcastle United 1, ARSENAL 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 4 Preview: Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)

About the only thing worse than facing the reigning Premier League champions on their own grounds is facing them there when they’re angry.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(WRITER’S NOTE — Lascelles has been confirmed as available by Benitez, who also ruled out Shelvey and Ritchie. That leaves the door open for Yoshinori Muto on the right in Ritchie’s spot. The bigger question remains four or five at the back and where exactly Lascelles’ place on that row is.)

Rafa Benitez may need to park more than just the bus Saturday at the Etihad, where an aggrieved Manchester City squad look to take out their frustrations on Newcastle United ahead of the international break.

Pep Guardiola’s side surprisingly dropped points last weekend at Molineux as new boys Wolverhampton held out for a 1-1 draw. Manchester City (2-1-0) slipped to fifth in the table – no big deal so early in the season – but what stuck in Guardiola’s craw was the manner in which they were held to that point.

Two non-calls went against the Sky Blues, Willy Boly’s goal for Wolverhampton in the 57th that should have been called a handball, and the penalty shout City had shortly thereafter when Ruben Neves felled David Silva.

Definitely the first and most likely the second would have been reversed had VAR been approved in the offseason – something Manchester City voted in favour of. Silva, one of the most even-tempered players on City, was booked for dissent as he hotly pleaded his case to referee Martin Atkinson.

Justice was served in the 69th minute through Aymeric Laporte’s bullet header off a free kick by Ilkay Gundogan. Sergio Aguero nearly won it at the death, but his free kick – one of three City shots to hit the woodwork – cannoned off the crossbar and the match ended 1-1.

Guardiola refused to be drawn into a post-match debate about the two momentous decisions, simply saying “The Premier League will decide when VAR will be here, it’s none of my business.”

While Wolves deserve credit for being the rare side able to disrupt City’s preference to play out from the back, Guardiola noted his team was sloppy on both sides of the ball.

“It was a good game for the spectators, but we conceded too many counterattacks and missed simple passes,” he said. “We tried, created chances but sometimes the final ball wasn’t good, but we will improve because defensively we weren’t as solid as we normally are.”

Guardiola opted for a four-man back line versus Wolverhampton but given the overwhelming advantage in possession they are expected to have in this contest, it would not be surprising to see him revert to the 3-1-4-2 utilised in City’s 6-1 rout of Huddersfield a fortnight ago. Laporte, John Stones and Vincent Kompany gave wide backs Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva the freedom to range forward practically into the attacking third.

The City boss could also reunite Aguero with Gabriel Jesus in the first XI considering the pair have combined for 17 goals in the eight league matches they have started together. Aguero in particular has been lethal in City’s last two home wins over Newcastle, racking up eight goals to give him 14 in 12 career meetings.

Even with Kevin De Bruyne a long-term injury absence, Guardiola has a wealth of attacking permutations which are likely forcing counterpart Benitez to burn the midnight oil for a second straight week.

Benitez’s relentless toil to neutralise the best sides of the Premier League is born from necessity due to the chasm in talent. He came under fire for using a five-man back last Sunday at home versus Chelsea, ceding more than 80 percent possession, yet Newcastle (0-1-2) very nearly nicked a point.

The Magpies were denied that draw as DeAndre Yedlin deflected a cross into his own net on 87 minutes, undoing the work he did four minutes prior when he whipped a cross from the right Joselu clinically headed for the equaliser.

“My job as manager is to analyse my squad, then decide what is the best approach to each game. Chelsea spent more in one window than we did in six,” Benitez said Tuesday in taking another shot at owner Mike Ashley for his lack of funds this summer.

“Everyone has different ideas and options, but for the squad we have this approach is fine. We almost got a draw.

“I am not happy that we didn’t get the points we deserved, but we are in a good position in terms of confidence in the team and the way we work.”

There was also much ado about the absence of centre back Jamaal Lascelles, whom Benitez claimed had an ankle injury amid media reports he dropped the captain after a disagreement over tactics. Benitez insisted Tuesday “we are fine” when asked about their relationship, but the defender is questionable.

Newcastle’s hangover continued Wednesday with a 3-1 loss at Championship side Nottingham Forest in the second round of the Carabao Cup. Salomon Rondon gave the Magpies a lifeline with a stoppage-time equaliser, but they quickly conceded a second.

Ayoze Perez had to be restrained by Benitez after the final whistle when referee Jeremy Simpson did not award a potential tying penalty after being pulled back by Forest defender Luke Steele which came seconds before Newcastle conceded a third.

Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey will miss his third straight match due to a calf injury, with Mo Diame the leading option to take that playmaking spot deeper in the midfield. Matt Ritchie has also been ruled out due to injury. Kenedy will return after being ineligible to face his parent club, but midfielder Isaac Hayden will finish serving his three-match ban for a direct red card against Cardiff City.

The Sky Blues are unbeaten in their last 21 league matches (18-3-0) versus Newcastle since a 1-0 road loss Sept. 24, 2005. The Magpies’ lone win in the last 23 contests (1-3-19) across all competitions was a 2-0 upset at the Etihad in the fourth round of the 2015 League Cup.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Man City are staggering 1/9 favourites to bounce back with a victory, while Newcastle United are 28/1 long shots to pull off a shock scoreline and return to Tyneside with three points. Even getting one point for the Toons seems a reach with 17/2 odds for a draw.

Oddsmakers also seem fairly confident in City’s ability to ring up goals against Newcastle, with 4/9 odds on a Sky Blues victory and over 2.5 goals. There are 16/5 odds on Man City winning 1-0 or 2-0, and the third-highest choice would be a 0-0 or 1-1 draw returning 11/1 odds.

Aguero’s proficiency against Newcastle has created a separate list of prop bets, the most eye-catching one being just 5/1 odds on the Argentina international recording a hat trick. There are 10/3 odds on him scoring on both sides of halftime.

As for first goal-scorer, Aguero is the easy frontrunner with 19/10 odds, followed by Jesus (3/1) and Raheem Sterling (7/2). There are nine City players listed — even Phil Foden — before finding Joselu and Rondon as Newcastle’s joint-top options at 16/1.

Aguero (4/11), Jesus (3/4) and Sterling (10/11) are heavy favourites to find the back of the net at some point in this match, with Mahrez (21/20) nearly an even-money selection. Rondon and Joselu are getting 4/1 odds to beat Ederson over the course of 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

You want to believe in Benitez, that he’s not losing the plot and simply playing these two matches against Chelsea and Manchester City simply to get them out of the way while trying to simply steal a point against either and/or both. He nearly got one against Chelsea, but that was due more to Eden Hazard failing to be patient when in possession.

The Citizens are a much different animal and are likely going to have eight players in the attacking third with Kompany and Laporte mopping up clearances Newcastle launch as City will recycle with the ball. That 80 percent possession figure Chelsea enjoyed is at risk of being topped at the Etihad.

It would not be a surprise either way if Lascelles starts or is dropped entirely from the 18. Federico Fernandez did not do anything horrific versus Chelsea as the middle man on the back line, so there is cover for Lascelles. Having Kenedy means there is at least an outlet for clearances up the sideline as opposed to Rondon being stranded without service. How Newcastle utilise that option may determine the competitiveness of this match.

Look for City to play wide through Mendy and Bernardo Silva. At some point, Yedlin is going to get caught too far upfield, and it likely will happen on more than one occasion. That is the space Guardiola’s side has exploited in the past and will do so again here.

Predicted final score: Manchester City 3, Newcastle United 0.

Other Match Day 4 Previews:

Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)
Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)