Newcastle United were given a baptism of fire in their opening fixture of the new 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season, as the Magpies were thrashed 4-0 away at Manchester City on Monday night and will be looking to bounce back against West Ham United on Saturday at 3.00pm.
New Manchester United manager, David Moyes once admitted that playing against Manchester City was like “going into a gun fight with a knife” and it certainly felt like that for Newcastle against the Citizens, as they had several injuries ahead of the game and star man, Yohan Cabaye, was the subject of a late £10m bid from Arsenal and was therefore not in the right frame of mind to play according to an angry Alan Pardew.
Things couldn’t have gone to plan any better as far as West Ham were concerned last weekend, as the Hammers blew away newly-promoted Cardiff City 2-0 and showed plenty of signs that they’re fully equipped to try and improve on last season’s tenth-place finish in the league.
The visitors are travelling to the North East in good spirits and manager, Sam Allardyce will be returning to his old stomping ground with an almost fully fit squad, as Andy Carroll (ankle) and George McCartney (knee) are the only absentees and Stewart Downing and Răzvan Raț could make their full debuts at St. James’ Park.
It’s the same old story as far as Newcastle are concerned, as the Toon suffered 41 significant injuries last season and Davide Santon (hip), Loïc Rémy (muscle strain), Massadio Haïdara (knee) and Jonás Gutiérrez (hamstring) will all be unavailable for selection, whilst Steven Taylor will also miss the game after picking up a straight red card for using his arm illicitly against Sergio Agüero in their opening fixture.
Newcastle have lost their last three Premier League home games (Arsenal, Liverpool, Sunderland) and have never in their top-flight history lost four in a row, whereas West Ham picked up four points against them last season, including a 1-0 win in this fixture thanks to a Kevin Nolan tap-in.
The Irons have won just one of their last 14 away games (Stoke City) since that fixture in November and will be hoping to put an end to that agonizing statistic on the weekend.
In the last six games between both sides in the Premier League, West Ham have claimed eight points (W2 D2), whereas Newcastle won both home and away fixtures in the 2010/11 season, which included a 5-0 home drubbing of their next opponents.
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Stewart Downing is the latest new face to arrive at the Boleyn Ground this summer and gave the West Ham supporters a glimpse of what he can bring to the club when coming on as a substitute against Cardiff City last Saturday.
The 29-year-old has joined from Liverpool for £6m and will be linking up with his former Merseyside team-mates Andy Carroll and Joe Cole at the Londoners. He needs to feel appreciated like he was at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa again and there is no doubt that the winger will receive an overriding approval of his abilities at his new club.
For all his criticism last season, Downing still brought three goals and five assists to Brendan Rodgers’ side and proved to be one of the most creative players in the Premier League at the same time.
The Englishman created 65 chances in total, including assists, and managed to better team-mate Steven Gerrard’s 65% of chances created from open play with 75%, which was also a greater tally than PFA Player of the Year, Gareth Bale with 68%.
Downing also created a chance every 33.7 minutes, which was quicker than the likes of Santi Cazorla (34.4), Eden Hazard (40.5) and Robin Van Persie (45.2). He has proved in his days as a Premier League player that he has a fantastic delivery into the box and with West Ham being a side of giants, Downing will be an unbelievable advantage to Allardyce’s tactical methods this season and will be the key man to watch in their side if he starts against Newcastle.
As for Alan Pardew, he will be hoping most of his creativity and speed this season will come from Hatem Ben Arfa and the former Marseille man has demonstrated since arriving in England in 2010 that he is trouble for any full-back in the league when he hits strong form.
The 26-year-old only made 19 appearances for Newcastle last season, as most of their squad struggled with injuries following their UEFA Europa League commitments, but still created 18 chances from open play and had a 57% dribbling accuracy overall. Ben Arfa is unquestionably one of Pardew’s best weapons to use on the pitch and with him being fully fit this season, he can provide the service that was missing for Papiss Cisse for most of last year, which could fire the club to a more healthier league standing this time around if all goes well in the final third of the field.
The Frenchman scored four goals and created two assists for his team-mates last season and if West Ham do hand Raț his Premier League debut, the former Shakhtar Donetsk left-back could be up for a torrid afternoon against the raw pace and confidence of Ben Arfa on his left-foot, as everybody has saw the devastating impact he has when on his stronger foot.
With Newcastle expected to open the game up as they hunt down their first points of the season, West Ham are likely to operate a safer approach and thus it will be a battle of the wingers, to see who can split open either defence with a magnificent cross or a first goal of the season for themselves.
Possible Team Line-ups: Battle of the Wingers
With Newcastle’s next three home games being West Ham, Fulham and Hull, they will be ruthless in their hunt to pick up some points in those games, although West Ham are many people’s tip to surprise the top eight this season and will pose a good test for the Geordies.
Prediction: Newcastle United 1-1 West Ham United
Referee: Phil Dowd
Odds via Pinnacle Sports
Newcastle United to win: 2.31 (Place a £10 bet to win £23.10)
West Ham United to win: 3.41 (Place a £10 bet to win £34.10)
Draw: 3.4 (Place a £10 bet to win £34.00)