Newcastle face Southampton at St James Park, for a 3pm kick-off, on Saturday in a match that is set up to be a very even contest. Both teams will be happy with their seasons so far, and both share the unlikely achievement of having beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford. However, while Newcastle have reached the top half of the table by virtue of the their recent run of results, Southampton have let themselves slip in recent weeks, and so there is a disparity between the two teams’ current form.
Newcastle come into this game on the back of a thrilling win at Old Trafford and are now the third team to win there this season. The result leaves them 2 places and four points ahead of the Manchester club, with Southampton the next team behind them by three points. It was a convincing Cabaye strike that handed them the win in that match, but the Frenchman will sadly be unavailable for this one due to suspension. It’s a blow for Newcastle with Cabaye being one of their star players, but with others such as Remy and Krul playing very well, they will hope it is something that can be dealt with. With Tottenham playing Liverpool this weekend – the London club therefore have a good chance of dropping points – so a win for Newcastle could see them move up to 5th in the table. Indeed, they are showing the kind of form that they managed two years ago in a season when they just missed out on the Champions League, and it will be their goal to keep it going.
Southampton had been playing well from the start of the season but have now hit a run of results in which they have only one win in their last six, unlike Newcastle who have five wins. To be fair to Southampton, they have faced Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City in that run and managed to get a positive draw against the latter club in their last game. That halted their run of three losses, and now they will be hoping to enter into another run of wins. The first thing that they will need to fix is their leaky defence. It was hailed as the best in the league at the start of the season but has now conceded 9 goals in their last four games. If they can manage a clean sheet this weekend, as they were doing so frequently at the start of the season, then Newcastle will be there for the taking.
In the absence of Cabaye, I’m selecting Loic Remy as Newcastle’s key player. He is the clubs top goal scorer and the team wouldn’t be where they are without him. So far he has 8 Premier League goals from 31 unblocked shots. He has achieved this with a 48% shooting accuracy, and his clear-cut conversion is 67% having scored 4 from 6 clear-cut chances, making him very efficient at taking his opportunities. He has also been very creative for the Magpies having created 16 chances for his teammates, with only Cabaye (20) and Sissoko (30) producing more. His ability to go around players with the ball at his feet has been vital to this, and he has attempted 29 dribbles with a 48% success rate. With Southampton’s defence conceding frequently at the moment, a big match from Remy could make the difference.
The most important thing for Southampton is to get back to when their defence were keeping clean-sheet after clean-sheet. Lovren has been their star defender at the heart of the back four and he will be needed if Southampton are going to combat the threat of Remy. He has 64 successful headed clearances out of 64 attempted, and 125 clearances in total (both stats being the highest in the team). He is the biggest aerial presence in the team as well, both at the back and from set pieces, and has entered into an aerial dual every 14.82 minutes this season. Moreover, he has attempted 32 tackles this season and won 84% of them; only Morgan Schneiderlin has attempted more (52) but only at a success rate of 73%. If Lovren can contribute to providing a clean sheet as he has in the past, then Southampton will have an excellent chance against Newcastle.
Ryan Taylor continues to go through therapy has he recovers from a ruptured ACL, while Debuchy could potentially return from a thigh injury.
While Newcastle have only two injury worries, Southampton have seven and are second in the injury table. Wanyama, Boruc and Schneiderlin are the three biggest names on the side-lines, with the latter likely to face a fitness test ahead of this game. Clyne is another big loss with a hamstring injury, while Fox, Do Prado and Davis are the final injured three.
The form of both teams is telling. Although Newcastle and Southampton will be motivated for this game, I’ll be predicting a win for the home team, who have 4 more wins than Southampton, in their last six.
Newcastle win: 2 – 1