15:00 GMT, Saturday 10th March, St James’ Park (Newcastle, England)
Rafael Benitez’s side were expected to have a tough season in the top-flight this season. However, they appear to be making harder work of their task than it should be.
Another two points were dropped last weekend from a highly-winnable position to leave them little room for comfort near the bottom of the table.
A torrid run at the end of 2017 saw them collect a single point from nine matches and they’re still largely recovering from that dip.
Having not been beaten by any of the teams currently below them this season, the Toon will be hopeful they can not only continue this run but claim a win which will give them a little breathing space.
Since the days of Matt Le Tissier, Southampton have often proved a major thorn in Newcastle’s side. Having not lost in their last seven encounters with the Magpies, the Saints (W4, D3) have also scored over 2.5 goals per game on average in this time.
Mauricio Pellegrino’s team will be hoping that this hoodoo still holds over the Magpies as a win will take them 3 points above their rivals in what’s looking an increasingly tense scramble towards the end of the season for the South Coast club.
Last Time Out
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United (Premier League)
A stubborn but unadventurous gameplan saw Newcastle offer little in attack and lack the quality needed to shut-out the Reds as they slipped to defeat on a cold Merseyside evening.
Both goals came from defensive mistakes with captain, Jamaal Lascelles, having an unusually poor game by his own standards.
Mohamed Diamé also made less of an impact on the game than he has of late. However, his rasping shot just before halftime was the Magpies best chance and could have greatly changed the course of the game if not for a fine save from Loris Karius.
Elsewhere in attack, Newcastle offered little. Mikel Merino, Jacob Murphy and Dwight Gayle were all relatively anonymous and posed little threat for Liverpool’s defenders to deal with.
While it was a return to Merseyside to forget for Benitez, his plan of frustrating the opposition back-fired and left a long journey home for the away supporters.
Southampton 0-0 Stoke City (Premier League)
The Saints knocked on the door but were unable to get the answer they were looking for as Stoke held firm to leave them with only a point.
Southampton took 65% of possession from the match and put the visitors under pressure for most of the 90 minute. However, they could not find a way past Jack Butland. The Stoke keeper was in inspired form and the main reason why the Saints didn’t take all three points from this fixture.
But while Southampton had several good chances to score from open play, they were sorely lacking a cutting edge in this game. They took 15 corners and 13 free-kicks throughout the 90 minutes. However, it was telling that no gilt-edged chances were created from any of these set-plays.
While Stoke always looked a threat playing on the counter-attack, this was far from a comfortable afternoon for Saints fans who booed their team from the pitch at the end of each half. A failure to score now leaves the club firmly entrenched in the relegation fight and worryingly, without a win in any of their previous 8 home games.
Newcastle United Lineup
Jonjo Shelvey (knee) and Islam Slimani (thigh) are the notable absentees for Benitez, with Robert Elliot (knock) and Jesús Gámez (ankle) also unavailable for this weekend’s fixture.
Benitez is likely to stick with the 3-4-3 formation he played last weekend, although Matt Ritchie is expected to return to the starting lineup.
Pellegrino will still be without his missing trio of Charlie Austin (hamstring). Maya Yoshida (knee) and Steven Davis (hamstring) but has no further problems with player fitness ahead of this weekend.
There could be some minor alterations in the Saints attacking lineup for this game. However, Guido Carrillo is once more expected to lead the line while Josh Sims should retain his place in the side after impressing last week.
Key Battle: Christian Atsu (Newcastle United) vs Josh Sims (Southampton)
As the only attacker who looked capable of producing something of note against Liverpool, Atsu made three key passes despite his limited time on the ball at Anfield.
Offering an effective link between Newcastle’s defence and attack, it will be this supply of chances which can help Newcastle become more potent in front of goal.
While the Ghanaian has not been directly involved in a goal since playing West Ham just before Christmas, he took a goal and two assists from that game and needs to find a way of bringing consistency into his game.
The Saints could well have a new star on their hands in the form of 20-year-old Josh Sims.
Having just recovered from a serious knee injury, Sims has made 3 brief substitute appearances recently before making his first start of the season last weekend.
Offering pace and enthusiasm, the wide attacker still looks a little rough around the edges but could well provide the spark that has been notable by its absence in Southampton’s performances this season.
All or nothing
Newcastle’s flirtation with the relegation zone has led Benitez to state the need for his team to be much more offensive in their final games, starting with this home game against a team currently below them.
With only 27 goals from 29 games, the Magpies 12 home goals this season is the joint-worst record in the league although, the fact Burnley are the other is a small crumb of comfort.
While there are few striker options for the Newcastle boss to explore – given that Slimani has remained sidelined with injury since his loan-move from Leicester – this extra threat could well come from midfield.
With players such as Ritchie, Atsu, Kenedy and Murphy all capable of running with the ball at the opposition, providing a free-role for one of these attackers could be a way to break through what is expected to be a stubborn Saints defence.
Southampton have suffered a rocky season, winning the second-lowest number of games (5) in the Premier League and failing to go more than 3 matches unbeaten before last month.
Pellegrino has recently steadied their form to some extent, seeing the team lose only once (to Liverpool) in their previous 10 games in all competitions.
With only won one league win (against bottom-placed West Brom) from their last 16 matches, they’ve only picked up 12 points from a possible 48 at a rate of 0.75 points per game.
This run has seen them sink to their lowest ebb of the season and leave fans desperate for some hope to cling to. The term “sleepwalking into relegation” often gets used, however, it seems highly appropriate for this situation.
Prediction: Newcastle United 2-0 Southampton
This is a huge game for both clubs and a match that neither can really afford to lose. Despite both sides having incredibly similar records from the season so far, it is Newcastle who have shown the most initiative on the pitch in recent games.
With the home crowd behind them this weekend, the Geordies 12th man could help make the difference which would leave Pellegrino under real pressure for the Saints final run-in.
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