Saturday 2nd April – 15:00 – Carrow Road
As much as the race for the title has had its twists and turns this season, the battle at the bottom of the Premier League is now also starting to hot up, with two of the teams in the thick of it, Norwich City and Newcastle United, going head to head this weekend. With Aston Villa destined for the Championship next season, two of the Canaries, Magpies or Sunderland will join them. Currently Norwich are the side out of the drop zone in 17th on 28 points, but have played a game more than both the North East teams. They did however win their most recent game before the international break, defeating West Brom 1-0 thanks to Robbie Brady’s goal. Newcastle are 19th with 25 points, having drawn 1-1 with Sunderland last time out in Rafa Benitez’s second game in charge of the club. They haven’t won since beating the Baggies 1-0 themselves at the start of February.
- Alex Neil could name the same starting XI that beat Norwich in their last fixture, meaning that it will be 4-4-2 again for Norwich with Patrick Bamford partnering Dieumerci Mbokani up front.
- However, either Wes Hoolahan or Steven Naismith, assuming the latter shakes off a minor hamstring problem as expected, could push for a recall in a number ten role, forming a 4-4-1-1 formation.
- Nathan Redmond and Alex Tettey (both ankle) remain out, while Ryan Bennett is a doubt with a knock.
- Karl Darlow is likely to replace goalkeeper Rob Elliot, who suffered a season-ending knee ligament injury while on international duty.
- Jack Colback starts a two-match ban, meaning that Vurnon Anita could deputise at left-back, whilst Fabricio Coloccini remains a major doubt due to a calf injury. However, Daryl Janmaat has been declared fit following a knee injury.
- Tim Krul, Massadio Haidara (both knee) and Paul Dummett remain out, whilst Yoan Gouffran, Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux aren’t expected to feature as they continue to build up their match fitness.
The Key Battle: Karl Darlow vs Dieumerci Mbokani
Karl Darlow began the season as Newcastle’s third choice goalkeeper, but injuries to Tim Krul and now Rob Elliott as well mean that the 25 year old will be the man between the sticks for the Magpies’ final eight games of the season.
The former Nottingham Forest stopper will have a shaky defence in front of him that have conceded 55 league goals this season, the second worst record in the division behind Aston Villa.
Darlow himself has only played twice this season, a 4-1 win over Northampton in the League and a 1-0 defeat to West Brom at the end of December in his only previous Premier League appearance.
Hoping to exploit Darlow’s lack of experience at this level will be Dieumerci Mbokani, who has four goals in 19 league games this season since signing on loan from Dynamo Kiev in the summer.
In the recent international break, the DR Congo international was caught up in the terrorist bombings at Brussels airport. Not injured, but ‘shaken’, will he be in a right state of mind to play and will it affect his performance?
Norwich City wins = 15 / Newcastle United wins = 23 / Draws = 11
*According to http://www.11v11.com
Last Meeting: Newcastle United 6-2 Norwich City (18th October 2015)
Georginio Wijnaldum scored four goals as Newcastle trounced Norwich for their first Premier League win of the season to move off the bottom of the table. Wijnaldum struck a composed first, two headers and a superb long-range fourth. Spaniard Ayoze Perez stroked in the third for Newcastle and Aleksandar Mitrovic lashed in the fourth. For Norwich, striker Dieumerci Mbokani had poked in an equaliser to make it 1-1, and Nathan Redmond volleyed for 3-2 before the home side pulled away. An electrifying contest saw five goals scored in the space of 20 first-half minutes, although neither defence covered itself in glory. [Full BBC report]
Alex Neil: “All the games are going to be important, but if you can get your work done early and get as many points on the board then hopefully the games towards the end will have lesser significance. It’s one of those finely balanced games where I think looking at the table, Newcastle probably need to win the game more than us but it would be an absolutely crucial win if we could go and get it.”
Rafa Benitez: “The reaction of team against Sunderland was really positive. We have the right mentality to go to Norwich and win. We know we can so it. I have had this relegation-fight experience with Extremadura. We have to give everything and I will not give up.”
The Referee – Mike Dean
- Last Premier League game: Swansea City 1-0 Aston Villa (19th March 2016) – 5 yellow cards, 0 red cards
- Last Norwich City game: Norwich City 0-3 Manchester City (9th January 2016) – 2 yellow cards, 0 red cards
- Last Newcastle United game: Newcastle United 3-3 Manchester United (12th January 2016) – 4 yellow cards, 0 red cards
2015-16 Record: Games = 32 / Yellow cards = 103 / Red cards = 9 / Penalties = 9
Infographic (courtesy of Sporticos)
All stats from Premier League only and correct up until 01/04/2016
Stat of the Match
Newcastle are five points worse off that at this stage of the 2008-09 season, when they were last relegated from the Premier League.
Where Can I Watch It?
As the game is a 3pm kick-off, it is not being shown live on TV in the UK, but there is commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live. The highlights will then be on BBC One’s Match of the Day on Saturday evening at 10:25pm.
My Prediction: Norwich City 1-1 Newcastle United
If this game was being played at St. James’ Park, then I would have gone for a Newcastle win, but Norwich should be able to get a point at home. Newcastle have started games slowly recently, and Norwich could take the lead through Patrick Bamford before an Ayoze Perez goal saves the Magpies. It’s a point that the home side should be more pleased with, but in the long term, I think Alex Neil’s side will go down with Rafa keeping Newcastle up.