2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)

The pressure continues to mount for Jose Mourinho, who could face the chopping block if Manchester United fail to at least get one point at Old Trafford on Saturday against a winless Newcastle United side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Manchester United (3-1-3) are languishing in 10th place in the table, enduring a miserable stretch in the past fortnight that could see them go into the international break winless in five matches across all competitions. Mourinho’s side barely improved on their lethargic loss last weekend at West Ham United as Spanish side Valencia held them to a scoreless draw Wednesday at Old Trafford in Champions League play.

“The last few games haven’t been good enough. We need that break and we need that break with a win,” left back Luke Shaw told MUTV. “It’s always a better feeling going into an international break with a win, because if you go in without a win, it’s a long time before our next game when you can put things right. It’s frustrating if we don’t, but I’m sure we’ll bounce back.

“We keep saying that after every game and I’m sure it’s hard for the fans to take, but you don’t know what else you can say. We need to win on Saturday and we have to win and we have to do it for ourselves, for the team, for the staff and most importantly for the fans.”

Supporters at “The Theatre of Dreams” were treated to a nightmare of insipid football Wednesday, a far cry from the “Attack, attack, attack” pleas the Stretford End voiced throughout 90 forgettable minutes. That such an effort came against a side currently 14th in La Liga with just five goals in nine matches made it all the worse.

Embattled playmaking midfielder Paul Pogba again underwhelmed and central striker Romelu Lukaku was again undeserved by a midfield lacking imagination beyond Pogba in the form of defence-first options Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic.

Alexis Sanchez’s struggles continued on the right wing, his lack of effectiveness exacerbated by Valencia’s repeated forays forward in the open space he created failing to back track in front of Antonio Valencia. Mourinho made only one substitution, swapping Anthony Martial for the Chile international in the final quarter-hour, but it mattered little in the end as United had only four shots on target in a fourth consecutive match without a victory.

“They tried, the players tried and they raised the level of their effort. We raised our level and intensity and we tried to play in some crucial positions building up but we don’t have the technical quality to build from the back,” said Mourinho, again offering his team faint praise amid his withering criticisms. “We knew we were not going to create 20 chances because we know our attacking players are not also in the best moment of confidence and individual performance level.

“So we thought with three or four chances, we would score and win the game. Which we didn’t but, as I was saying, it’s not a bad result.”

Mourinho remains determined to stay at Old Trafford in a bid to buck the third-season struggles that have engulfed him – he still has the backing of ownership and club chairman Ed Woodward – and other high-profile clubs throughout his storied career, but even that right now appears little more than a marriage of inconvenience between. A growing list of former United players turned pundits – most notably Rio Ferdiand and Paul Scholes – have called on Woodward to sack Mourinho, with Ryan Giggs holding out in favour of Mourinho.

As all of English and European football media continue to take sides on whether Mourinho’s bile and rage will eventually consume himself and cost him this job through either the sack or resignation, the other looming truth is the only realistic option United have in trying to salvage this season if Mourinho does exit is bringing Zinedine Zidane to Old Trafford, and there is no guarantee the former Real Madrid boss and three-time Champions League winner will come on board.

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez can empathise with Mourinho regarding struggling player performance, but only so much as the Tyneside club are one of three Premier League teams without a victory. The Magpies (0-2-5) are at the top of the drop, ahead of fellow winless squads Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City on goal difference, with Benitez’s tactical nous limiting the damage of a daunting early stretch of schedule that included four of the big six sides.

Like Mourinho, Benitez has plenty of worry about his team’s attack after it was completely non-existent in a 2-0 loss at home to Leicester City last weekend. Newcastle had only one shot on target, and it embodied the word “speculative” as Jonjo Shelvey tried to catch Foxes keeper Kasper Schmeichel off his line with a 60-yard effort that the Denmark international comfortably caught under his crossbar.

Otherwise, there was little to write home about, with the St James’ Park faithful again engaging in lusty booing of beleaguered owner Mike Ashley as the lack of funds to strengthen the Magpies continues to be the undercurrent regarding all things Tyneside and straining the relationship between owner and manager. Newcastle conceded a penalty on the half-hour when DeAndre Yedlin handled Harry Maguire’s shot inside the 18, and slack defending on a corner in the 73rd led to Leicester’s central defender putting the match out of reach with a header.

“The reality is, if the team are doing well, normally the fans are happier,” Benítez told The Times. “When you are not doing well, football fans expect to see the team doing things right. We have to improve, that is it.”

The problem for Benitez is he lacks the options in personnel to drive that improvement, especially in attack. Both Joselu and Salomon Rondon lack top-shelf quality operating as the lone striker in Newcastle’s 4-4-1-1 formation, and Ayoze Perez – who plays beneath whichever striker Benitez chooses for a given match – does not get enough touches to help them.

For all of Shelvey’s vision in the middle of the park, he has little help going forward, and the eventual pressure of defending and defending and defending reaches a crescendo in which a breakdown happens late, Newcastle concede and the hopes of nicking at least one point are dashed.

The Magpies have yet to lead at any point in their eight matches across all competitions this season. They have totaled just five goals, failed to score more than one in any contest, and three of those markers have come at 83 minutes and later.

The home team won both matches last term, with Manchester United storming to a 4-1 victory as Pogba had a goal and an assist to help the hosts overturn an early deficit. Newcastle won 1-0 in the most recent meeting, after which Mourinho excoriated his players for lacking the needed desire to win.

Newcastle’s lone win in 24 trips (1-8-15) to Old Trafford in the Premier League era was a 1-0 triumph in 2013 on a goal by Yohan Cabaye. The Magpies have scored more than one goal just twice in those 24 matches at Manchester United.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Man United are still prohibitive favourites to tune out the noise for one match at least as they enter this contest with 4/9 odds to claim all three points. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 16/5, while Newcastle are 7/1 longshots to claim only their second win at Old Trafford in the Premier League era.

While oddsmakers are expecting Manchester United to score goals — a win with 2.5 goals leads the listings at 27/20, there is a healthy respect for Benitez’s tactics as a Manchester win under 2.5 goals is not that far off at 9/4. Unsurprisingly, a 0-0 or 1-1 draw is the third-most attractive option at 4/1, while Newcastle victories offer substantial returns under 2.5 goals (12/1) and over (14/1).

Lukaku heads the list for first goal scorers at 14/5, leading a parade of seven Man United players that include Rashford (7/2), Martial (9/2), Sanchez and Pogba (5/1), Jesse Lingard (6/1) and Juan Mata (7/1). Joselu and Rondon are both 11/1 to give the Magpies a shock lead, rating behind Fellaini and no goal-scorer.

Lukaku is even money to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Rashford 11/8 and Martial (8/5) edging out Pogba (7/4) for third. That is somewhat surprising given Pogba is Man United’s designated penalty taker and Newcastle have already conceded spot kicks to two of the other four “Big Six” sides they have faced. Oddsmakers are still showing faith in Sanchez to get on track, offering 15/8 odds to find the back of the net.

PREDICTION

How much longer can this go on? This already has the feel of a Mexican standoff, with Mourinho offering clipped responses at press conferences, former Man United players-turned-pundits offering opinions every time a microphone is thrust in front of them or held by them and breathless speculation about suitors Woodward has or has not secretly met with to gauge their interests in a job that has been evolving into a poisoned chalice since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

And with a reported £15 million payout for termination, the Glazers will have to think long and hard about sacking Mourinho and bringing in Zidane during a season as opposed to at season’s end. And whether you love or loathe “The Special One,” the United fan base will not go quietly into the night if the hatchet man does come calling for Mourinho.

But you know who can fix this, for one weekend at least? Lukaku. If ever Man United needed the Belgium international to live up to his flat-track bully reputation and pump in a goal or two, it’s in this match at this moment. Lukaku’s last goal came five matches agao at Watford, and it has been a combination on both ends why the drought is where it is. One is the lack of service, and the other is lack of finishing. One or both have to change, and one option is for Mourinho to have Pogba and Mata flank Matic in the 4-3-3 knowing full well Benitez is going to have two banks of four and dare Man United to come forward.

And that brings the conversation to Newcastle. Any other manager would have been pilloried with four league goals through seven matches and an inability to have a lead for even one of a possible 720 minutes. With the distance between last season’s 10th-place finish and this season’s current plight at Tyneside, it does look like Benitez was a sort of miracle worker in getting the Magpies to the top half before regressing to the mean thus far.

Some of that is the schedule, and while Man United are the fifth of the big six Newcastle are facing in their first eight matches, there can be only so much negative football played before it weighs on the players. That is not a knock against Benitez and his side, it’s simply the realisation trying to win 1-0 or hold out at 1-1 or 0-0 is an energy-intensive exercise steeped in frustration and misery. And Newcastle supporters already have that in spades tolerating Ashley’s stewardship of the club.

After playing down to Valencia, this is the match Man United finally get it right for 90 minutes and get three points, however convincing or unconvincing it may be.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 2, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

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 2 Preview — Cardiff City (0-0-1) vs. Newcastle United (0-0-1)

Newcastle United know the road promoted Cardiff City are taking because they walked it themselves last season. Thus getting at least one point Saturday in Wales is an important task for the Magpies as the Bluebirds play their first Premier League home game since 2014.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Art

(Note: Arter was not assigned a number as of the time of this writing, hence the “0”)

Newcastle United gave Tottenham Hotspur a challenge before falling 2-1 at St James’ Park last Saturday to open the season. Joselu’s goal on 11 minutes quickly canceled out one by Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen, but a second equaliser was never found after Dele Alli restored Tottenham’s one-goal lead seven minutes later.

The Magpies could justifiably feel aggrieved they did not take one point from this match as both Mo Diame and Salomon Rondon hit the woodwork in the second 45 minutes while shooting at the Gallowgate End. Rondon, one of seven summer signings by Newcastle, knows his side must move on quickly to embrace the challenge of facing new boys Cardiff City.

“We shoot (against) the post twice, but it was not to be for us, which is a shame,” the Venezuela international told the club’s official website. “We know that Cardiff are promoted this season, and it is a difficult league for everyone – all of the teams have spent a lot of money to make a good team for the season.

“It will be difficult, but we just have to think about us – that is more important for the team. It is away, but we just have to think about the win, that is the only way.”

Despite those seven signings, it is the lack of a marquee signing which still rankles Rafael Benitez to a degree – though nowhere near as much as the fans. Newcastle have yet to eclipse their record signing of Michael Owen for £16.5 million in 2005, a stunning fact given the influx of television rights money into the Premier League in the last three years alone – let alone the previous decade.

It was that backdrop as Benitez hedged his frustrations post-match. While acknowledging his team’s fight versus Spurs, the Spaniard sharply noted “when you have money and you buy players, you buy quality, and quality is not just technical ability.”

Benitez will likely be forced into one change to his starting XI since right back DeAndre Yedlin was forced off late with a knee injury as Newcastle used 10 men in stoppage time having made their three substitutions. Yedlin started 31 league matches last term, and Javi Manquillo is the front-runner to take that spot if the United States international is unavailable.

Another of the new signings, Yoshinori Muto, could be an earlier option off the bench with another week of practice and conditioning after a nine-minute runout versus Tottenham. Midfielder Sung-Yueng Ki and defender Fabian Schar were unused newcomers in the first 18.

Cardiff City’s first Premier League home match since being relegated in 2014 follows a 2-0 loss at Bournemouth last Saturday. The Bluebirds did not make much noise in terms of the summer signing window and are relying on the core who got them promoted from the Championship to avoid going back down there, much like Benitez and Newcastle did last term.

That directly contrasts against fellow newcomers Fulham and Wolverhampton, whose combined net outlay exceeded £160 million to avoid being one-season wonders. Cardiff City ranked 17th in summer spending at £28.5 million, ahead of only Newcastle (£17M), Crystal Palace (£9.5M) and Tottenham Hotspur (£0).

“I don’t think any of the boys in our dressing room are afraid,” keeper Neil Etheridge told The Times. “We have got such a good tight group and the gaffer says, ‘Go out and enjoy it’, and we will. And that will get us through the hard times because there will be hard times, undoubtedly.”

That gaffer, Neil Warnock, will have a full complement of players to choose from since Bournemouth loanee and midfielder Harry Arter was ineligible to play against his parent club. Fellow midfielder Victor Camarasa, who joined Cardiff City on loan from Real Betis at the deadline, could also be in line from playing time after watching from the bench.

Striker Kenneth Zohore should be available for at least selection to the 18 and perhaps start after missing the opener with a groin injury. Midfielder and Iceland international Aron Gunnarsson is expected to miss at least two more weeks with a knee injury suffered in preseason.

As is the case with most promoted sides, offence can be a concern in the transition to the next level, and Cardiff City are no different since they play a direct style. Winger Josh Murphy had a positive impact replacing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing just after the hour last weekend, and after the Bluebirds registered one shot on target with 37 percent possession, Warnock may need to tweak his XI to a more adventurous setting.

Newcastle did the double over Cardiff in the 2016-17 Championship en route to promotion and have won 10 straight league matches over the Bluebirds since a 1-0 loss in Division Two in 1981. Cardiff’s lone win in the last 11 overall meetings was a 2-1 third-round upset in the 2014 FA Cup.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Newcastle are slight favourites at 29/20 odds, while Cardiff City are listed at 21/10. Odds on a draw are squeezed between the sides at 2/1.

Cardiff’s Bobby Reid leads the tote board for any-time goal-scorer at 11/5 odds, followed by both Zohore and Rondon at 5/2. Joselu lurks just behind the pair at 13/5, while Perez and Muto are each getting 14/5 odds on finding the back of the net. For first goal-scorers, Reid again leads the pack at 11/2, with Joselu, Rondon and Zohore at 13/2. Perez is listed at 7/1 odds, behind no-goal scorer at 5/1.

PREDICTION

This match will likely not be among the Premier League’s most aesthetic offerings of the season. Cardiff City are still figuring out their best 11, and Newcastle are going to undoubtedly play a cagey defence-first style. The Bluebirds should look to get Junior Hoilett involved early to test Manquillo, and they should have more pace going forward with Arter available and the possible inclusion of Murphy on the wing.

Newcastle did not play all that badly against a near full-strength Spurs side, and were inches from nicking one point on two occasions. Losing Yedlin is not ideal, but Manquillo did start 20 league matches last season, so Benitez is not throwing the Spaniard into the deep end. This looks like a match in which Jonjo Shelvey could provide a moment of decisive creativity that gets Newcastle United up and running.

Prediction: Cardiff City 0, Newcastle United 1

(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 in this blog.)

Other Match Day 2 previews:

Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. Southampton
West Ham United vs. Bournemouth