Newcastle vs Southampton: Five things to look forward to

A key battle in the fight for survival, Southampton make the long journey to the North East at the weekend.

Just one point separates Southampton and Newcastle near the foot of the table. They have near identical records: Southampton have scored two more goals but also conceded one more than Newcastle. 

With Crystal Palace and Stoke City playing Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, this match could offer both teams a real opportunity to put a bit of distance between themselves and the bottom three.

Tight as things are in the bottom half of the Premier League, a win here could be enough to save one of these two teams.

Here are five things to look forward to:

  1. 1 Will St James' Park help or hinder Newcastle?

    On a good day, the crowd behind Newcastle United at St James' Park is one of the beautiful things in Premier League football. 

    Their last home match was an example of that as they upset the odds to beat Manchester United. Behind the team, the crowd they cheered every tackle, block and clearance as Newcastle held them at bay.

    On such matchdays, it must be one of the hardest stadiums to visit in England. But it's not always, or even often, the case. Only West Brom have picked up fewer points at home than Newcastle this season.

    The Manchester United win brought an end to a winless run of eight home games. The crowd at St. James Park can get frustrated and tetchy in vital relegation battles and that nervousness appears to permeate onto the pitch.

    With a cautious manager at the helm and a squad not particularly suited to playing expansive or open football, it's difficult for the team to set a tone on the pitch that lends itself to a raucous and intimidating atmosphere. 

    Their visitors are similar to themselves - having just as bad a record at St. Mary's, as Mauricio Pellegrino's conservative approach pays better dividends on the road. A nervous home crowd would play right into Southampton's hands.

  2. 2 Can Guido Carillo score his first goal for Southampton?

    Like many of the relegation-threatened teams around them, investing in a striker was imperative for Southampton, especially with the long-term absence of top scorer Charlie Austin. 

    Unlike Islam Slimani at Newcastle, or Daniel Sturridge at West Brom, Southampton's January acquisition has been fit and able to play a major role in their relegation run-in. He's been an ever-present for Pellegrino since he arrived, but has a mixed time of it.

    His assist for Dusan Tadic was key to claiming all three points against West Brom, and again he played the supplier for Manolo Gabbiadini, who equalised late on against Burnley.

    But he is yet to score for Southampton. There's no better time than now to get off the mark.

  3. 3 Mikel Merino to step-up in the absence of Jonjo Shelvey

    Jonjo Shelvey, the mercurial midfielder who shone so brightly against Manchester United, looks set to miss his second game in a row through injury.

    This could give an opportunity to Mikel Merino, who received great fanfare when it was announced his loan move from Borussia Dortmund was being made permanent. However, after impressing in his early season performances, he hasn't featured prominently in the latter half of this campaign.

    Benitez evidently feels that Shelvey and Merino together does not offer the defence enough protection, and the better form of the former Liverpool man has earned him a place in the first team.

    The Liverpool fixture last week was just the Spaniard's second league start of 2018. Excuses can be made for him not playing his best game at Anfield against one of the best teams in the country, but not here.

    With Southampton likely to sit deep, Merino will need to step up and play penetrative balls to the forwards, or wide runners like Kenedy or DeAndre Yedlin.

  4. 4 Will either manager take off the shackles and go for the win?

    Only West Brom have won fewer games than Southampton, but they have recorded more draws than any other team.

    Newcastle are proving difficult to beat. Since Christmas, only Liverpool and Manchester City have beaten them, but they have also only recorded two wins (though five draws) in that time.

    Inching away from relegation one point at a time is proving successful for both teams - sort of - as they find themselves out of the bottom three. But it's a risky strategy, given Newcastle are two points clear of the drop and Southampton just one. 

    It's an interesting conundrum: how to approach a relegation battle. Sam Allardyce, a specialist in keeping teams up, always said to "respect the point", On the other hand, La Liga veteran Paco Jemez who did well to keep Rayo Vallecano up for many seasons (and looks to be completing a great escape with Las Palmas this season) often goes all out in a pursuit of three points - often losing, but doing enough to get an occasional win.

    A solitary point here would do neither team a great deal of good, whilst a win would be incredibly valuable. But this is a contest between two cautious pragmatists - will either change tack now?

  5. 5 Can Newcastle take positivity into another long break?

    After defeating Manchester United, Newcastle could bask in the win for two long weeks. 

    Their early exit in the FA Cup has given Newcastle plenty of downtime in 2018 so far - and they're due plenty more. With their match next weekend postponed due to Tottenham's FA Cup commitments and an international break coming up, Newcastle don't play another fixture for three weeks. 

    Three points would help build positivity but a bad result could fester a nervousness that can't be extinguished until they play Huddersfield on March 31st.

    Who will win on Saturday? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

  1. Poll: Who will win in this relegation six-pointer?

    1. Newcastle
    2. Southampton
    3. Neither - it will be a draw
    13 votes
    Share Your Result

Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?