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)

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)

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

Tactics, schemes, set pieces and in-match adjustments will be the order of the day at St James’ Park on Sunday when Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United attempt to put the brakes on the fast start enjoyed by Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The two managers share a common thread as managers of Serie A side Napoli. Benitez guided the Little Donkeys for two seasons from 2013-15, finishing third and fifth before moving onto a doomed six-month stint at Real Madrid. He resurfaced two months later at Newcastle (0-1-1), whom he could not save from relegation but brought back to the top flight by winning the Championship in 2017.

After a 3-0 rout of Chelsea last May when it was evident Antonio Conte would not be returning to Stamford Bridge, Benitez felt Sarri could thrive if he took the job.

“Sarri to Chelsea? At the beginning it’s not easy but a great manager can adapt to the Premier League,” he told CalcioNapoli24. “In England there is more respect for the role of manager. When I arrived at Liverpool they gave me three years to win something. I had to manage the team and try to win, I was not obliged.

“In Italy and Spain you must win something in the first year, sometimes in the first week.”

Sarri, a lifer in the lower rungs of Italian calcio, was a surprise selection to follow Benitez at Napoli. The club continued to thrive as they finished no lower than third in Sarri’s three seasons and were the only consistent threat to Juventus’ domestic dominance. Napoli’s 91 points last term were the most of any Serie A side who failed to win the scudetto.

Chelsea (2-0-0) turned to Sarri as their relationship with Conte — another mercurial Italian manager – soured almost immediately after winning the Premier League title in 2017. Sarri became an attractive alternative for owner Roman Abramovich in large part because Sarri does not care much, publicly at least, about the transfer window and coaches who he has on the squad at that moment.

Both men are football obsessives, men who find their greatest joy examining the game at the macro and micro levels. Benitez spent his honeymoon following around AC Milan, and Sarri earned the nickname “Mister 33” because he had 33 plays at the ready for set pieces while coaching Sansovino – a sixth-division team during his tenure in the early 2000s.

For this match, Benitez will be the bigger tinkerer of the two. A crucial change to Newcastle’s lineup is enforced since winger and Chelsea loanee Kenedy cannot play against his parent club.

The Brasil international missed a penalty in Newcastle United’s 0-0 draw at Cardiff City on Aug. 18 that was the last kick of the contest but was also lucky to still be on the pitch to even take the attempt as referee Craig Pawson missed him kick Victor Camarasa.

“A point away from home in a difficult game, with 10 men, is a point gained, but it’s disappointing because we could have had all three in the 95th minute,” left back Paul Dummett told the club’s official website.

“We came for three points and we didn’t get them, but in the circumstances – having 10 men – we’ll take the point. These things happen in football – players miss penalties, players miss chances and today it was us.”

Benitez should have right back DeAndre Yedlin available after he was sidelined last match with a knee injury. Japan international Yoshinori Muto could get his first start with the Magpies to fill Kenedy’s spot, and Salomon Rondon could lead the line at the expense of Joselu. One other possible switch for Benitez would be installing Federico Fernandez for Ciaran Clark in central defence to partner with Jamaal Lascelles.

Isaac Hayden will begin serving a three-match ban for his reckless challenge on Cardiff’s Josh Murphy that resulted in a direct red card.

Sarri could leave his lineup unchanged for a third straight match after taking the maximum six points from the first two. The good and the bad of Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation and decision to shift N’Golo Kante to the right were on display in Chelsea’s 3-2 derby win over Arsenal on Aug. 18.

The Blues tore apart Arsenal’s defence in the first 20 minutes as Pedro and Alvaro Morata scored goals. But after two seasons in which Kante defused so many opposing attacks with well-timed tackles and interceptions, the Gunners showed how to ruthlessly exploit the gaps created when the France international goes forward.

Arsenal equalised before halftime and realistically should have scored twice more in those 45 minutes. Chelsea, however, won after defender Marcos Alonso swept Eden Hazard’s pass by Petr Cech from close range in the 81st minute.

“I think we play good football when we have the ball,” Morata told Chelsea’s official website. “We need to improve on small things but it’s only been one month since we’ve been all together with the manager and I think if we can continue like this we can play against any team in the world.”

Sarri’s temptation to tinker comes in replacing Willian with Hazard on the left wing. Hazard has been building to match fitness since returning from Belgium’s third-place finish at the World Cup and has registered assists in both matches coming off the bench.

Mateo Kovacic, who came over on loan from Real Madrid when the reigning three-time Champions League winners signed keeper Thibaut Courtois, could get his first start as well over Ross Barkley in the midfield.

St James’ Park has been a bogey ground of late for the Pensioners, who have taken one point from their last five visits and been outscored 12-5. Ayoze Perez had a brace in that 3-0 victory in May for Newcastle, scoring both goals in a four-minute span of the second half.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are decided 4/6 favourites, while Newcastle United check in as 21/5 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 11/4. Punters appear torn between an outcome in which both teams score (5/6) or one side posting a clean sheet (19/20). For those expecting anti-football, a scoreless draw is listed with 10/1 odds.

The leading outcome among bettors is a Chelsea victory with more than 2.5 goals at 8/5, while a Pensioners win under 2.5 goals is listed at 29/10. The match ending in a 0-0 or 1-1 draw pulls down 15/4 odds.

Chelsea dominate the board for first goal-scorers as they have the first six options, led by Morata and Olivier Giroud at 4/1. Hazard is a somewhat surprising third at 5/1 given he has yet to start this season. Newcastle strikers Rondon and Joselu are the joint-top options for the hosts at 9/1.

For anytime goal-scorers, Morata and Giroud are again the top picks at 11/8 odds, with Hazard 17/10. As an adventurous option, Muto is a 4/1 anytime scorer and a 12/1 pick to give the Magpies a 1-0 lead.

PREDICTION

One thing Benitez did very well last season was devise tactics against the top-six sides when playing at home. Newcastle went 3-1-2 in such matches last year, losing only 1-0 to Manchester City, and it can be argued they deserved at least one point from their season-opening 2-1 loss to Tottenham a fortnight ago.

Not having Kenedy available gives Benitez all the incentive he needs to take a defensive stance in this match and stay compact while looking for opportunities to hit on the counter. That may cause some grousing among the Toon Army, especially considering there will be pre-match protests of owner Mike Ashley — something now the norm versus the exception — but they and Benitez know this is the best chance to grab a needed victory here.

Chelsea are still a curious work in progress with Sarri-ball. Arsenal showed what a good counterattacking team can do with a little bit of pace, and Newcastle may be able to exploit such gaps with Muto and Perez. It would not be surprising to see Joselu hold his spot for this match, but Rondon provides an industry that may force David Luiz to have a second thought or two when advancing.

This should be an intriguing chess match of move and countermove given how both Benitez and Sarri love the game within the game. In the end, however, Chelsea’s talent and depth should win out late.

Predicted Final Score: Newcastle United 0, Chelsea 2.

Other Match Day 3 Previews:

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)
Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

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