2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)

Huddersfield Town’s bid to climb out of the bottom three got significantly harder this week ahead of their potential six-point belter Saturday at John Smith’s Stadium versus Newcastle United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Terriers (2-4-10) are at the top of the drop on 10 points, one better than both Southampton and Fulham. They have a Premier League-low 10 goals, and one of their primary sources of offence and playmaking – midfielder Aaron Mooy – has been ruled out until at least February with a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in last weekend’s loss to Arsenal.

It is a doubly cruel blow for the Australia international, who will also be unable to represent his country at the Asian Games in January. Mooy is the only midfielder or forward on Huddersfield with more than one goal in all competitions – his brace powering a 2-0 win at Wolverhampton on Nov. 25.

“I’m gutted to be missing an important time for Club and Country,” Mooy told the club’s official website. “We’ve got a lot of fixtures over the Christmas period at Huddersfield Town, but I back the team to continue our good performances and get the results that we’re targeting.

“I’m also sad that this injury will rule me out of the Asian Cup. I’d like to wish the Socceroos all the best as they head to the UAE; I’ll be supporting them from afar. The hard work on my recovery has already started and I’m looking forward to being back out on the pitch.”

The news also is not good in defence either as talisman and defender Tommy Smith is sidelined until at least the turn of the calendar year with a hamstring tear suffered in the loss to Arsenal. After using Smith at right back in a 4-2-3-1 set-up versus Arsenal, Huddersfield boss will likely have to revert to a three-man defence as he has done most of this term.

“The news on both Aaron and Tommy is not something we wanted, but injuries are part of football; we have to deal with it, manage it and carry on into this important December period,” Wagner said. “Aaron and Tommy are both strong characters and will work very hard in their recovery. We look forward to having them back.

“For now, this creates opportunities for others. I’ve said all along that we will need everyone in the squad to contribute and now we should see the benefits of having such a competitive squad.”

Wagner will be without one of Mooy’s potential midfield replacements as Abdelhamid Sabiri is sidelined until February following surgery to repair a broken collarbone suffered against Bournemouth. Huddersfield also have short-term injury concerns for this match with midfielder Jonathan Hogg (groin) and left back Terrence Kongolo (knee) facing late fitness tests.

Huddersfield – trying to avoid a fourth loss on the bounce — will also be without striker Steve Mounie, who is serving the last of his three-match ban for a straight red card given in their 2-1 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Dec. 1. The Terriers still have yet to get a goal from a striker this term.

Newcastle United (3-4-9) are in far better health than Huddersfield Town, but Rafa Benitez is trying to revive the club’s spirits after a hard-luck 2-1 loss to Wolverhampton at home last weekend as they are just three points better than the Terriers.

Ayoze Perez’s header on 23 minutes canceled out a Wolves goal six minutes prior, but the Magpies had to play the final 33 minutes down a man after DeAndre Yedlin was given a straight red card for a foul as the last man on a scoring opportunity.

Benitez’s side defended bravely in their bid to nick a point, but it came cruelly undone in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Matt Doherty had an uncontested header from close range on the rebound of a shot by Diogo Jota turned out by Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka.

Benitez was incensed at referee Mike Dean’s decision to eject the American international, who will miss this match due to the red card, and the Spaniard became the latest Premier League gaffer to feel VAR cannot come fast enough in the top flight.

“I saw the replay (of the elbow) and we need VAR right now,” he fumed to the Times, equally livid Dean missed what he thought was a penalty on Wolves after Perez had his nose bloodied in an aerial duel with Willy Boly. “I was praising the referee and they (the FA) fined me, so imagine how I feel now. You can see the two incidents in the video. It was unbelievable.

“You cannot believe this type of situation can happen in the Premier League. It was an elbow in the face, he was bleeding. It was so obvious.”

Benitez does at least have an in-form striker in Salomon Rondon. Though the Venezuela international was denied a fourth goal in five matches when his free kick thumped the crossbar, his graft in tracking to the outfield to recycle the ball resulted in him getting an assist with the cross for Perez’s goal.

Javier Manquillo will likely deputise at right back for the suspended Yedlin. Centre back Fabian Schar is also available for selection after serving a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.

Both teams recorded 1-0 victories on their home grounds last term, with Mooy’s goal on 50 minutes the difference in West Yorkshire in Huddersfield’s first top-flight home contest since 1971.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Huddersfield Town are slight 13/8 favourites to claim all three points, while Newcastle are 21/10 underdogs. Oddsmakers are also giving 21/10 odds to the teams splitting the points.

Given the sides’ defensive set-ups, oddsmakers are heavily leaning on the teams failing to reach 2.5 goals with 8/15 odds. There are 6/4 odds on the clubs having an offensive outburst to get over that threshold. There are even money odds for both teams to score a goal compared to 3/4 odds for at least one clean sheet.

With Mounie out again, Laurent Depoitre is the top option to score the first goal of the game with 11/2 odds, followed by Huddersfield teammate Collin Quaner (6/1). Isaac Mbenza is a 7/1 pick for the hosts, as are by Newcastle’s tandem of the in-form Rondon and fellow forward Joselu.

Depoitre also leads the line for an any-time goal in this match with 21/10 odds, followed by Quaner (9/4). The aforementioned trio of Mbenza, Rondon and Joselu are all 11/4 to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Perez and Huddersfield’s duo of Adama Diakhaby and Elias Kachunga all listed at 3/1.

PREDICTION

This is a really tough spot for the Terriers, who are clearly not dealing from a position of strength offensively without Mooy and Mounie, and potentially without Hogg as well. The pressure to pull the strings in the middle will fall upon Alex Pritchard to help Depoitre, who likely will operate as a long striker. On the flank, Florent Hadergjonaj will have to try and go forward to help pin Newcastle left back Paul Dummett in his own half of the pitch.

This match may be as simple as the Magpies pumping balls into the box to see what kind of damage Rondon can do against Huddersfield’s back three, especially if Kongolo is unable to play in this contest. It has taken almost half the season, but the Venezuela international is getting the type of results that are making Newcastle supporters slightly forget they let a similar striker in Aleksander Mitrovic go to Fulham this summer.

Not having Yedlin is a blow, but the return of Schar provides a stability to the central defence that was lacking somewhat last week. That was most evident in the breakdown on Wolves’ first goal with Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles. The good news is Benitez can use Manquillo for the first 45 minutes to figure out if he needs to replace him for the second 45.

This is not a matchup for those seeking goals, though Wagner and Benitez are both cagey enough to turn this into a chess match. But the lack of bodies who can create goals for the Terriers is going to loom large against a Magpies side that does their best work on the road.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Huddersfield Town 0, Newcastle United 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS

Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

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 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 7 — Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)

Leicester City look to avoid making it “two steps forward, one step back” on Saturday when they try to build on their Carabao Cup win at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Foxes (3-0-3) avoided a third loss on the bounce last weekend by rallying from an early deficit to win 3-1 over Huddersfield Town. Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho scored goals thanks to the other’s help around a 25-yard free kick from James Maddison in the 66th minute for the go-ahead marker.

Leicester City followed up that effort Tuesday by advancing to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, eliminating new boys Wolverhampton 3-1 on penalties at Molineux following a scoreless 90 minutes.

Second-string keeper and cup starter Danny Ward made a star turn during the spot kicks, saving efforts by Diogo Jota and Romain Saiss in the first two rounds and stopping Adama Traore for the match-clincher to send the Foxes through.

“As I have said before, in penalty shoot-outs it’s my job to save them and my heroes are the boys who put them in the back of the net,” Ward told LCFC TV after his biggest moment since arriving from Liverpool in the summer transfer window. “This is massive for us, we want to take this competition seriously, we want to go as far as we can, it’s not a training exercise, we do that on the pitch at the training ground.

“We want to progress and do as well as we can.”

The win may have come with a high price as winger Demarai Gray was forced off in stoppage time with an ankle injury. Claude Puel rotated eight players from the win over Huddersfield, most notably resting defender Harry Maguire and pulling holdover Vardy at the hour for Iheanacho.

The Nigeria international has emerged as Puel’s strike partner for Vardy, totaling two goals and two assists in his last four matches across all competitions. Iheanacho had eight goals in 28 overall matches in 2017-18.

Both he and Vardy have benefitted from the arrival of Maddison, already considered one of England’s top playmaking midfielders despite being only 21. He has a team-leading three goals in league play and started the movement that led to Iheanacho’s goal versus Huddersfield, continuing his seamless transition to the Premier League following his £24 million transfer and from Championship side Norwich City.

As the Foxes seek that next level to climb from the mid-table, Newcastle United (0-2-4) are hunting for a lifeline out of the bottom three as they again seek their first victory. The Magpies avoided a fifth loss on the spin last weekend, taking a point back to Tyneside following a scoreless draw against Crystal Park at Selhurst Park.

But the public tete-a-tete between manager Rafa Benitez and embattled owner Mike Ashley added yet another chapter following the match. The Sports Direct magnate attended a match for the first time in 16 months, and the traveling Toon Army continued their vocal support of Benitez by jeering their owner.

Ashley and Benitez did not meet after the match, and after multiple transfer windows of unfulfilled promises of money to spend, the Spaniard hopes his boss now understands the urgency of the situation ahead of the upcoming one in January.

“I have to take this as a positive,” Benitez told The Times when asked about Ashley’s presence at Selhurst Park. “If he comes to the team he can see his players, what we have, and hopefully he can be more sensible and then he will be ready to do something if we need to do it. I think he knows that, and he can do it.

“We have to be sure everyone supports the team, starting with the owner, and then we will be stronger.”

While Newcastle have yet to record a victory, Benitez pragmatically mitigated the damage of a gauntlet versus Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal among their first six league matches and emerging with only a minus-4 goal difference. The onus is now on Newcastle to start moving up the table against the lesser-calibre clubs, something Benitez readily embraces.

“We have a lot to do now, but if the team work as hard as they did today and if you score first against teams who are not in the top six, then it can change everything.”

Scoring first, however, is something Newcastle have yet to accomplish. They have not held a lead at any point in their first seven matches in all competitions, and three of their five overall goals have come in the 83rd minute or later.

The road team won both matches last season, with an 86th minute own goal by Newcastle midfielder Ayoze Perez the difference in Leicester City’s 3-2 win at St. James’ Park. The Foxes have won their last two matches at Tyneside, but their 2-1 loss in the most recent meeting snapped a five-game winning streak in all competitions versus the Magpies.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Newcastle are slight favourites to break their duck and win for the first time this season, getting 6/4 odds. Leicester City are 19/10 underdogs, and the odds of the teams splitting the points is also tightly packed in there at 21/10.

Oddsmakers do not seem entirely sure of how Newcastle are going to win this game, with 7/4 odds of the Magpies winning with more than 2.5 goals and 15/4 odds of them winning with less than 2.5. Equally intriguing is the Foxes narrowly getting better odds to win with more than 2.5 goals (17/4) than under (9/2). A 0-0 or 1-1 draw is also getting plenty of traction with 27/10 odds.

Vardy leads the line for first-goal honours despite his status as guest, checking in with 9/2 odds. Newcastle strikers Joselu and Rondon are joint-second at 11/2, while Iheanacho gets 6/1 billing to stake the Foxes to that all-important 1-0 lead.

Vardy also leads the way for anytime goal-scorers at 7/4, with Joselu nipping Rondon for second at 21/10 compared to 11/5 for the Venezuela international. Iheanacho (9/4) and Leicester City playmaker Maddison (12/5) round out the top five of options over the course of 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

This is the point where the rubber meets the road for Benitez and Newcastle. After doggedly playing to expectations in which the Magpies were competitive but snakebitten — sometimes deservedly so based on set-up — it is now imperative for the Tyneside team to start scoring goals. And while it is easy to look at Joselu or Rondon as the source of these struggles, Kenedy should not go without blame.

One of the most important loan acquisitions for Newcastle United in helping them secure a top-half finish last term, the Chelsea product has yet to unlock the offence this season and also cost his team two points with his missed penalty against Cardiff City as the teams finished 0-0.

The good news for Newcastle is that in both Cardiff and Huddersfield Town, there are two sides that appear unlikely at any point to pull themselves out of the bottom three and separate themselves ahead of the Magpies. The challenge for Benitez’s team is to instead open a gap above them.

Leicester City continue to be a curious side that could find themselves in the hunt for a top-seven finish or in that no man’s land between 11th and 15th where the order fluctuates from week to week. While it took a season-plus, the Foxes are finally getting consistent production from Iheanacho, who has learned how to take advantage of  Vardy’s tireless work rate up front.

It also helps the Nigeria international he is being supplied by Maddison, who is quickly putting his mark on the Premier League as opposing players are taking note. This is a match where manager Claude Puel should be setting his team up for victory — they have a standout central defender and a well-rested one in Maguire who should be up for the challenge of shutting down whichever Newcastle striker Benitez chooses between Joselu or Rondon — and they have the better attacking options across the front with Rachid Ghezzal in support in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

The Foxes also have the better keeper in Schmeichel and should do well to keep possession in this match to limit Newcastle’s chances offensively. The Foxes have a chance to kick on after their midweek victory and should do so at St James’ Park.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 0, LEICESTER CITY 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

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)