Newcastle United vs Leicester City
Venue: St James Park
Referee: Simon Hooper
Leicester travel north to St James’ Park on Saturday afternoon, as Claude Puel’s side attempt to build on their victory over Huddersfield Town, while The Magpies remain winless in six.
After facing Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham in their opening fixtures, Newcastle have a realistic opportunity to finally gain their first win of the season. Rafa Benitez will be anxious to avoid remaining in the relegation zone for long, especially considering the current sombre atmosphere surrounding the club.
While sharing the points would constitute as a favourable result considering Leicester’s impressive start to the season, it will only postpone the impending negativity regarding remaining winless; a draw would not see Newcastle climb out of the bottom three.
Another defeat would ask serious questions of both Benitez and his squad. So far neither the managers or players integrity has been questioned; all the blame has been pinned to owner Mike Ashley. However, this squad retained the majority of the players who finished 10th in the Premier League last season, and a lack of investment doesn’t excuse the insufficiency in the application of their methods.
On the contrary, successive wins for The Foxes would see them keep pace in the race for a Europa League place. If other results end favourably, they could finish the weekend as high as fifth. Puel’s target this season must be Europe’s secondary competition, and the Frenchman’s managerial intuition has got his side playing considerably more expansively than previous incarnations.
Returning to the Midlands with just a point could be perceived in two ways. Transitioning recent impressive home performances to their travels but finishing level would be positive after collecting only three points away so far. But a repeat of Leicester’s ill-disciplined display against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium wouldn’t fill fans with confidence.
Regarding injuries, The Magpies remain without Florian Lejune after he underwent knee surgery. Salomon Rondon is also a possible doubt after being substituted against Crystal Palace at half-time due to a muscle injury; the Venezuelan failed to make a significant impact at Selhurst Park. It’s likely that Benitez will exercise caution and select Spanish striker Joselu to lead the attack.
Claude Puel could potentially contend with missing Demarai Gray after he sustained an injury to his ankle in Carabao Cup action against Wolves. The English winger had started the campaign brightly after Riyad Mahrez departure in the summer, thriving in the Algerian’s absence. It’s likely Gray’s replacement at the weekend will come either in the form of Ricardo Pereira or Rachid Ghezzal; both have unique skillsets that would pose vastly different threats to the home side.
It would be wrong to exclude James Maddison, who has received many plaudits, as well as being widely tipped for a future England career. His opponent this weekend will be Paul Dummett, and the Welshman will have to produce an outstanding performance to nullify the presently imperious 21-year-old.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Newcastle United: Dubravka; Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy; Perez; Joselu.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; Amartey, Evans, Maguire, Chilwell; Mendy, Ndidi, Maddison, Ghezzal, Iheanacho, Vardy.
Prediction: Newcastle 1 Leicester 2
St James’ Park can be a hideously tense venue in scenarios such as this. Neither side is likely to demand authority of possession, potentially leaving both sides feeling slightly uneasy with the ball early into proceedings. Whoever exercises an attacking rhythm first will be in an excellent position to control this fixture; form suggests that will be Leicester City.