There was a long stretch last season when Newcastle felt like an impregnable fortress, a Death Star in the making, as they amassed the fewest losses in the Prem and the most draws on their way to finishing fourth. There was heady talk of them rising from the ashes, of restoring Newcastle to some semblage of its former glory, and there was not any talk at all of sportswashing of the entirely benevolent Saudi Public Investment Fund. All hail Krull and his glorious new regime. The sportswashing and success have sputtered ever so slightly, but that doesn’t mean that we can waltz into St. James’s Park unawares.Continue reading
Well, we came very, very close to enjoying one of the best weekends in living memory, and I’m not just referring to date-night with the missus. There wer lots of enjoyable results on the pitch, but we were one tragic dive away from opening up more of a gap on that one pesky squad that’s been nipping at our heels. There’s just one more match before this not-at-all morally compromised World Cup whose timing is about as impeccable as it ever could be, and Arsenal, it must be said, have a fair chance at going into the break top of the table, which is, after all, where we are at the moment anyay. Let’s check in on our besties, shall we?
1. Arsenal (11W 1D 1L: 34 pts.)
Yeah, we just won at Stamford Bridge for the third year running. Sure, we’re the only side to have scored in all of our matches to date. Of course, we’ve kept the most clean sheets in the Prem and, last but not least, we’ve taken 34 of 39 points to date. What does this all add up to? Gary Neville’s answer is that fourth place is only 50-50 and is “as good as [Arteta] can probably get.” Last season, it took us 38 matches to win 22 while scraping a meagre 69 points. To date, we’ve won half that number in one-third as many matches to gather 49% of those points. Sorry to spring the maths on you, but at least I’m not asking you to show your work. Just trust me (if only because I’m not great at the maths and may have botched it). Long story short: we’re doing somewhat better than last season, if not well enough to win the Prem, then at least well enough to make Neville look like a proper bellend. I mean, most everyone understands this, but it bears revisiting from time to time.
2. Man City (10W 2D 1L: 32 pts.)
At long last, something went Man City’s way (I feel like I’ve penned similar words before). Referee Darren England, apparently feeling worse than Raskolnikov after issuing Cancelo a straight red and disallowing a Haaland goal, worked through those bottomless dpeths of guilt by rewarding de Bruyne’s very legitimate and not at all histrionical collapse—the kind that likely elicited appreciative nods from Robben, Suarez, Drogba, and all of the other flat-track bullies who collapse at the leaset bit of contact—by pointing to the spot. Phew. Long sentence there, am I right? It’s almost as long as England’s (Darren that is, not the country) penance. There really should be some kind of sliding scale for these situations. Oil-rich club whose bench could probably compete for a league title? Your player has to be rugby-tackled by two defenders before we’ll give you a pen. Newly promoted side whose entire squad earns less than your opponent’s second-string striker? We’ll give you a pen because your opponent smirked at you. If only.
3. Newcastle (7W 6D 1L: 27 pts.)
As with last week, your brave correspondent will mince no words and pull no punches in describing Newcastle’s entirely honourable and highly-esteemed owners. Those who disparage these owners are merely mindless muckrakers who are only happy to tear others down. More’s the pity. More seriously, though, one must admire Eddie Howe’s work in fashioning this side into such a resolute one after a sluggish start that included one win, five draws and a loss. They’ve now won five of their last six, feasting on Aston Villa and Southampton after somehow finding a way to win at Topspur Stadium, something that almost no club can ever seem to pull off. Without European commitments, they’ve played the fewest matches of any club on this besotted list (oh, wait. It is I who is besotted.) and look very likely to put ever more pressure on those above them while also potentially widening the gap to those beneath them.
4. Tottenham (8W 2D 4L: 26 pts.)
Did I say that almost no club ever seems to find a way to win at Tottenham? Feels like ages ago. Ahem. Anyway, Tottenham did what Tottenham do, which is to sit back and dare their opponents to unlock their defense…except for the moments when they decided to let Mohammed Salah scored twice in transition, the second coming courtesy of a comically inept header from Eric Dire (it’s word-play like this that has me getting paid loads). Liverpool have now won their first away-match in six outings, and Tottenham have now lost their last two home matches. Shorn of Son and Richarlison, Conte’s “I make Mourinho look aggressive” tactics flounder all the more because no one has the pace to make counterattacks actually, you know, attack. In the time Kane needs run the length of the pitch, I could come up with a clever comparison to Per Mertesacker running a similar distance.
5. Man U (7W 2D 4L: 23 pts.)
I’m on the verge of dropping Man U after their 3-1 thrashing at Villa Park, and, like any man, there rages within me a battle between two demons. Within me, there is one demon, Sloth, who wants to stare at the little screen while ignoring the big screen as a reward for having to stare at the medium-sized screen all day. Then, there is the other demon, Spite, who wants to wallow in the schadenfreude of yet another loss for Man U. It’s an epic struggle, I must admit. So, then. Villa managed to defeat Man U at Villa Park for the first time since 1995. For whatever tactics Ten Hag deploys, he is still amost entirely at the mercy of David de Gea, and de Gea on this day (don’t say day-uh, don’t say day-uh…) was merely mortal. There are just far too many holes to fill in this imbalanced squad, and when de Gea can’t paper those over, they’re going to find themselves at the mercy of their opponents more often than not.
That’s that for another week. I’ve given up naming these posts as “Matchday #” because we’re already out of whack due to cancellations and postponements with some clubs having played 14 and others 13 at a time when all of them should have played 15 by now. Left out of the roundup this week, of course, are Chelsea, who managed to lose at home to some Johnny-come-lately pretenders to the throne; and Liverpool, despite their brave, stirring, up-from-the-basement-or-close-to-it win over Tottenham. One or both of them—or Brighton, if they can continue to actually score goals in the post-Potter era—could still find their way into the conversation. My first demon hopes not. Right, then. Let’s leave it there for now. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments-section below. I’m seeing more and more reactions to posts and would love to hear more from you, my loyal readers…
Newcastle come to the Emirates on a positively Mancunian run of form (the red kind, not the blue), having lost three of their last six, and they’ve joined the cool clubs’ club of manager sackings. Whether new manager Eddie Howe can convince Toon to stop shipping goals like they’re promotional giveaways at a charity auction will be one of the questions of the day. Key to Howe’s strategy, surely, will be to let Arsenal be Arsenal, which is to say, “continue being about as toothless going forward as an octogenarian former boxer.” Only six clubs have scored fewer goals than we have. To have still managed to take 20 points while scoring just 13 goals in 12 matches is a strange kind of wizardry. No club has conceded more goals than Newcastle. Watching this match could end up like an episode of the Keystone Kops.
Still, one should be careful when cracking wise about a squad that has outscored one’s own. Newcastle have shown, at least on occasion, that they can find the back of the net. They’ve failed to score in just two matches, and they did put three past Brentford (who themselves had only conceded 14 goals in 11 matches themselves). With Howe in charge, we’ll likely see a Toon side that’s more committed to getting up the pitch and attacking, which at least offer something resembling tactics upgraded from Steve Bruce’s philosophy of “put the best lads you have out there and see what they do”. Howe’s side should have a harder time than Liverpool did in breaking us down, provided that Arteta doesn’t rile up the away fans by getting into a shouting match with Howe. Newcastle don’t have anyone quite as good at sh*thousery as Sadio Mane, so maybe we’ll be safe this week.
A more-adventurous Newcastle might end up more-dangerous going forward, but they’ll also risk being more-porous at the back. They’ve conceded three goals or more on five occasions and have kept a grand total of zero clean sheets. Howe might fancy the return to fitness of keeper Martin Dúbravka after Karl Darlow’s struggles against, well, everyone he’s faced. Whoever’s between the sticks will probably have a long afternoon. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in particular seems to relish this fixture, having scored in each of his last five outings against Newcastle on his way to six goals and three assists in eight appearances against the Magpies. If he can deliver more of the same on Saturday, that would go a long way to taking all three and perhaps giving the man a confidence boost going forward.
If not, we can look to Emile Smith-Rowe, who has a chance to score in three consecutive home matches for the first time since Ian Wright did so way back in 1997, before the Smith was even born. I’m putting my money on both he and Aubameyang finding the back of the net in a 3-1 win. Your predictions below the fold…