16:00 KO (BST); Sunday 24th September; Falmer Stadium (Brighton, England) Sky Sport
Brighton have found the jump up into the Premier League a difficult process but proved with their 3-1 win at the Hawthorns they possess enough to upset the odds in this division.
With his old club in town, Chris Hughton will remember is time on Tyneside with mixed feelings after he was sacked with the club sitting 12th at Christmas.
While he hasn’t beaten his former club in any of his six attempts so far, Hughton will need to build a strong home form for the Seagulls this term and a win against Newcastle would be the perfect tonic for him and Brighton this weekend.
After losing the first two games of the season, Newcastle won the following five successive league matches before claiming the title at the end of the season. To suggest that this current campaign will reflect the trajectory of last may sound preposterous but the Toon are defying all pre-season predictions.
With Rafael Benitez still at the helm, Newcastle look confident and organised, a combination which saw Newcastle complete the double over Brighton in the Championship last season before clinching the league title from their grasp.
Last time out
Bournemouth 0 – 0 BRIGHTON [1-0 AET] (Carabao Cup)
A second defeat in four days from the Cherries dumped Chris Hughton’s men out of the Carabao Cup in a marathon game of few chances. With ten changes made to his side, it was a good if unadventurous gameplan with Brighton sitting deep for much of the match.
A compact formation proved hard for Bournemouth to break through but it also meant that Brighton created little in the way of opportunities for themselves in a game which looked destined to remain goalless long before the 90 minutes were reached.
Without a recognised centre-forward on the pitch, Brighton started with two youngsters in central midfield in the shape of Jayson Molumby and Dessie Hutchinson while there was club debuts for summer signings Ezequiel Schelotto and Jose Izquierdo, with none of the quartet looking out of place on the pitch.
The same compliment can’t be aimed at Jamie Murphy with the midfielder looking lost as the makeshift striker, however, Tim Krul contributed hugely to the team with several outstanding saves that kept the Seagulls in the contest.
NEWCASTLE 2 – 1 Stoke City (Premier League)
A win carved out of perspiration and planning from the training ground lifted Newcastle to another Premier League victory. While Stoke were allowed more possession in the match, Newcastle restricted the number of chances the visitors created while making the most of the ball when they saw it.
Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie again proved to be the perfect outlets for Benitez’s counter-attacking style, creating three chances each.
With Ritchie sending ten crosses into the box, two of which were converted, Atsu relied more on his positional nous and raw pace to unsettle the Stoke defenders.
With United creating the majority of good chances in the game, Joselu proved to be the weak link in putting his old club to the sword. Of his five shots on goal, one was blocked, one was tamely hit straight at Jack Butland and the remaining three were wildly off target.
Luckily for him and Newcastle, Jamaal Lascelles was yet again on hand to lead the team forward. After sprinting up-field and powering a corner into the net after letting the referee know his thoughts on a previous decision, Newcastle may just have a captain to lead them above expectations.
Beram Kayal (leg), Steve Sidwell (back) and Sam Baldock (calf) all remain unavailable for the Seagulls while Izzy Brown also looks set to miss out as he recovers fitness following his recent hamstring problem.
Tim Krul could also push for a starting spot in goal for Brighton after a dazzling debut in the midweek cup match meaning he could face the club he left last week while Bruno is also expected to return at right-back for Hughton.
Paul Dummett (hamstring), Massadio Haidara (knee) and Aleksandar Mitrovic (suspended) will once again be missing for the Magpies while Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle could again start the match on the bench with few changes required from the recent starting lineups.
Key Battle: Tomer Hemed vs Joselu
With both teams likely to play a counter-attacking style with their wingers breaking forward, the lone striker at the tip of the formation will play a vital role for their respective team on Sunday.
Hemed has a single goal and assist to his name, both of which came in the win against West Brom. While he may not be plundering goals for his side, his positive mentality and work rate have been second-to-none and provides the team with a willing runner to stretch the opposition’s defence.
While he’s still adapting to playing in the Premier League, his club would welcome another vital contribution for him against Newcastle.
Lining up against him is another forward who has a single goal this season. In a similar mould to Hemed, Joselu is a willing team player who perhaps needs to be more refined in front of goal.
Lacking composure against his old club last weekend, Joselu has already had a run of league matches whilst at Stoke but could not make enough of a mark to maintain his place in the first team.
Given a second chance now through Benitez, Joselu has shown great promise in his build-up play, however, like Hemed, he will ultimately be judged on the goals he brings to the team.
The margins between success and failure the league can be slim, something which can be a harsh lesson after playing in the Championship which is often a more straight-forward affair of capitalising on a dominant display.
With a smaller range of skill levels across the teams throughout the league, the margins in the matches too are of a finer degree.
With a little extra luck against a 10-man Watford side and a better league result against Bournemouth after being the better team over the course of the match, Brighton could easily have found themselves with an additional five points.
At this early stage of the season, this is the difference between finding themselves 16th or 5th in the table, however, it would be the source of much more confidence heading into future fixtures.
With their opponents this week finding themselves at the opposite end of this spectrum to themselves, Brighton will need to take the small chances which they’re presented with to fare well in both this game and this league.
Against the odds
After a year spent rebuilding the team in the Championship, Rafa Benitez has assembled a new look team from the side who were relegated from the Premiership just over a year ago.
While Matt Ritchie has experience at performing well in the top-flight prior to this season, his history in an exception rather than a rule within Newcastle’s squad. For many of the Toon players, this season is a chance to prove that they have what it takes to excel at this new level of football.
Players like Christian Atsu, Mikel Merino and team captain Jamaal Lascelles are all players of great promise and potential but many such players before them have failed to make the grade from this position.
With a year in the Championship to gel the foundations of his new side together and some further small enhancements in the transfer window, Benitez will use this motivation to help propel his players and the clubs fortunes forward and prove wrong the many doubters who condemned his side to struggle this year.
PREDICTION: Brighton 0 – 1 Newcastle
Brighton have looked the least capable of the three promoted teams in the opening fixtures of this year’s competition. What they have shown is an ability to withstand waves of attacks with a compact and well-disciplined team and a resolute mentality.
While Newcastle will not bring a huge weight of attack against them this weekend, they will have a determination and perseverance which has seen them overcome their opposition in recent weeks and I can see them grinding out another win by a single goal to maintain an impressive start.
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