The battle for Champions League football will take another turn on Thursday night. Newcastle United looked to be cruising into the top four a couple of weeks ago following their win over Southampton. Since then, they have dropped points in successive matches and the relentless form of Liverpool is keeping them honest. They welcome a buoyant Brighton and Hove Albion this week, in a game that they will be desperate to win. The Seagulls wouldn’t be the opponents they would have wanted for such an occasion.
Eddie Howe’s job is simple over the final few weeks of the season. Newcastle need to win two of their remaining three matches to secure a top four finish. If they manage that, then there is nothing that Liverpool or Brighton can do to catch up. It is in their hands and two of their remaining matches are at St James’ Park. The other is a trip to Chelsea, to face a team that are waiting for the season to end. Nerves are starting to build on Tyneside, but the players will be confident that they can finish the job.
Brighton are in the race for European football and unlike Newcastle, they will be pleased with qualification for any of the three competitions. There is an outside chance that they can still make the top four, but it looks very unlikely at the time of writing. The last two matches have shown the contrasting sides of Brighton. They were easily beaten by Everton a couple of weeks ago, before bouncing back with their own convincing win to end Arsenal’s title challenge. They will be dangerous opponents for Newcastle.
Eddie Howe is unbeaten in evening kick offs at St James Park, since taking over at Newcastle. The Magpies have won nine and drawn twice.
There have been 20 goals scored in Brighton’s last five matches.
Bruno Guimaraes has been struggling with an ankle injury in recent weeks and he will be needing the summer to fully recover. However, he is needed for the next three games. Newcastle need their midfielder to get back to his best form if they are to secure a top four finish. There will be a need to strengthen the midfield over the summer, as Newcastle have been too reliant on their Brazilian international. He is the only player in the squad capable of playing the number six role, which means that he doesn’t get much opportunity to rest. Brighton have two excellent midfielders in Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister. That will be an intriguing battle on Thursday and Newcastle need their own South American to come out on top.
Alexis Mac Allister
These could be the final few matches for Alexis Mac Allister in a Brighton shirt, as there have been plenty of rumours linking him with a move away. Liverpool have been the club most closely linked with him and this could be a chance for him to aid their hopes of finishing in the top four. The focus will be on Brighton though and ensuring that the Seagulls finish in a European place. It has been a remarkable season for him, as he has emerged as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, while also winning a World Cup. In the league, he has scored ten goals for Brighton and his consistency has been integral to the side’s success. The midfield battle will be key on Thursday and Brighton will need Mac Allister to give a big performance.
Sean Longstaff is a doubt with a foot injury. Jamaal Lascelles, Matt Ritchie and Emil Krafth are all out for the season. Allan Saint-Maximin could be pushing for a start after two appearances from the bench.
Joel Veltman and Julio Enciso are both doubts with knocks. Adam Webster and Solly March are unlikely to be back for this game.
This will be the game that Liverpool fans are hopeful that Newcastle United will drop points in. If they do, it will mean that the Magpies have to win their final two matches. The atmosphere is special when night games are played at St James’ Park. That could end up being the difference on Thursday. Brighton are a good team, but they will need to be at their very best to come away with anything. The fatigue in their squad after playing a lot of games in a short space of time could end up being the deciding factor. A win for the home side would see them take a giant leap towards finishing in the top four. Given the atmosphere, a victory is the most likely result.
Newcastle United 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion