20:00 BST, Monday 30th October, Turf Moor (Burnley, England), Sky Sports
Not only have Burnley stormed to an impressive start this season, they have done so in style, having taken the majority of their points from teams who finished in the top seven last season. With home form being a surprising weakness this season, the Clarets head into the game having won three of the last four meetings at Turf Moor between these two sides.
With only a single defeat from the last seven league games, Newcastle have adapted to the Premiership well since they lost the first two games of the season. Having scored ten goals from nine games and conceded eight, this season has been built on fine margins. With all but one of these goals conceded coming in the second half of their games, Benitez has done all he can to organise his team defensively. He now has to control a match which pits him against an equally organised manager this week.
Last Time Out
Manchester City 3-0 Burnley (Premier League)
Burnley fell to a heavy defeat against City but the match was closer than the scoreline suggests. A slow start to the game by the Clarets was made worse when a poor penalty decision was awarded after Bernardo Silva dubiously tumbled in the area. Sergio Agüero duly sent the ball flying into the net and it was a wake-up-call for Burnley to start playing.
Burnley’s continuous pressing limited the time and space available for the City players to operate in, with Nick Pope standing up well as a last line of defence for the Clarets. With the loss of Chris Wood to injury in the 20th minute, Burnley clearly missed their main striker with Ashley Barnes failed to impose himself on the game. There were opportunities for the Clarets to snatch a goal back. However, two goals in as many minutes punctured Burnley’s hopes as they increasingly risked all in chasing the game.
Newcastle United 1-0 Crystal Palace (Premier League)
Newcastle made it four wins from seven in the league with a late goal in a largely uneventful match. The centre-back pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune continued to flourish, snuffing out Palace’s attacks with 10 clearances and coordinating the players around them.
Rafael Benitez made the surprising choice of leaving Mikel Merino out of the starting lineup in the week that he signed a permanent contract with the club. Merino proved to be influential from the bench, however, scoring the winning goal after replacing Isaac Hayden for the majority of the second half.
Tom Heaton (shoulder), Jon Walters (knee), Dean Marney (knee) and Nahki Wells (ankle) will all miss out again for Burnley with Chris Wood (hamstring) also joining them in the treatment room. Sam Vokes is a small doubt for the clash but is expected to be ready thanks to the delayed Monday evening kick-off. He could be the only change to a team which is serving Sean Dyche well at present.
Paul Dummett (hamstring) will be unavailable to travel this weekend leaving Rafael Benitez likely to field a variation of what’s quickly becoming his regular side. Dwight Gayle (calf) is a doubt for the game. However, Benitez expects him to be fit in time for the kick-off. With Burnley having a five-man midfield, this match could see the central pairing of Merino and Hayden deployed to protect the Newcastle defence.
Key Battle: Jack Cork (Burnley) vs Isaac Hayden (Newcastle)
While Burnley primarily use the wings to penetrate opposition defences, Jack Cork has proved a valuable asset for Burnley since he joined the club from Swansea this summer. His controlled passing saw him register an 87% accuracy against City last weekend, dictating the tempo through his ability to either hold or move the ball quickly as required. With Burnley expected to have more possession this weekend, Cork will hold the key to how they attack.
In an opposite role for Newcastle will be a player who has yet to make a huge impact amongst the fans of his club. Isaac Hayden plays an unspectacular role in breaking down the opposition’s attacks and laying off the ball to a player more capable of springing an attack. His energy levels have been crucial, though, as has his positional sense and he could again be used away from home by Benitez to hold the opposition on even terms until the latter stages of the match.
A Man in Demand
This week seems to have seen Sean Dyche’s name attached to every club except Burnley as the media scrambles to connect dots between empty chairs and managers currently currying favour. While Dyche has regularly stated he has no intention of taking the job and is happy with the Clarets, it shows just how high his star has risen in the last few years.
Having achieved promotion to the Premiership twice and now seemingly established the club in the top flight, Dyche has achieved more than the fans expected when he took over five years ago. As the third-longest serving manager currently in the Premiership, Dyche knows the importance which loyalty and consistency can play and is unlikely to down tools in a chase for personal glory.
With only three of the players potentially starting this weekend’s game arriving at Newcastle before him, this is now very much Rafa’s team. Having dismantled and re-built from the bottom up following a drop into the Championship, Benitez has built the team around his ideas and philosophies of what makes an effective team.
A part of this includes taller, stronger, more physical players in the key areas of the field. This has transformed Newcastle’s ability from set-pieces, leading them to be the most prolific side from set plays in the Championship last year. It also appears to have helped to eradicate the perennial problem of injuries amongst the squad, something which has often hindered league campaigns on a regular basis.
Prediction: Burnley 1-0 Newcastle United
These two sides will be well matched with a similar style of well-organised, no-nonsense defending providing a foundation for their wingers to work from. Both teams are capable of using the ball well and both also lack a potent scorer, particularly with the absence of Chris Wood in the Burnley side. As such, this promises to be a low-scoring affair which will see the home side clinch by a solitary goal.
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