On Saturday at noon, relegation threatened Leeds United will visit top four contenders Newcastle United in what could be a crucial Premier League match between two teams at different ends of the standings.
The visitors have earned all five possible points in four of their last five road games, while the Whites have won only one of their previous five league games played at home.
There was no place for sentiment when ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce started his four games stint at Leeds by controversially substituting Joel Robles for goalkeeper Illan Meslier during a spirited 2-1 loss to Manchester City. One could argue that keeping the likely champions to a one goal margin is a success in and of itself, and Allardyce left the Etihad with “a lot of hope” following that tenacious effort.
Leeds slid into the bottom three as a result of other results, but with their relegation opponents playing later, they have the chance to temporarily rise above Everton to a position of relative safety with a win versus Newcastle. The Yorkshire club can be encouraged by a scoreless draw in the head to head match, but to revive their rapidly dwindling aspirations, they really need to score against the Tynesiders for the first time since their Saudi takeover (D1, L1).
Newcastle’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2002/03 were dashed last week when desperate championship contenders Arsenal defeated them 2-0 to snap a three games winning streak. Although Magpies manager Eddie Howe lamented several missed opportunities, he urged the devoted fans to “stay united” because they still had 12 points to play for, which put their future in their own hands.
The fact that Howe’s team has won 12 of the last 15 possible points when traveling (W4, L1) suggests that they won’t be intimidated by playing away from home. The fact that the Toons have not lost at home this season against any team ranked ninth or lower (W7, D3), including scoring three or more goals against four of the bottom five teams, adds to their joy on away days.
Rodrigo scored Leeds’ first goal under Allardyce, however his team lost for the fourth time in his previous six games in which he scored (W2, D2, L2). Callum Wilson has scored twice in two of Newcastle’s previous three games (G4), but he hasn’t scored or won in any of his five encounters with Leeds (D1, L4).
The three Leeds players Luis Sinisterra (ankle), Tyler Adams (hamstring), and Stuart Dallas (leg) are all out for the remainder of the season. Liam Cooper (muscle) is also out, but he might be able to make a comeback before the season is up.
Joel Robles, the experienced Spaniard who replaced the criticized Illan Meslier as the starting goalkeeper last weekend, may continue in that role, but defenders Robin Koch and Pascal Struijk will be pushing to start after coming off the bench last time.
Patrick Bamford may lose his starting position in the attack to Rodrigo, and Crysencio Summerville will compete with Wilfried Gnonto and Jack Harrison for a spot on the wings.
Sean Longstaff, who missed the loss to Arsenal due to a foot injury, is out for Saturday’s game as well. Jamal Lascelles and Emil Krafth are both sidelined for the remainder of the season due to calf and ACL injuries, respectively.
Howe has acknowledged that he would need to reconsider his offensive choices after the Gunners match, where he first started Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak together, did not go as planned.
With eight league goals in as many games, including four in his past three away from home, Wilson may receive the start in the midfield, but if Howe chooses to start Isak as the central striker on Saturday, Miguel Almiron or Allan Saint-Maximin may take Wilson’s place.
The rest of Newcastle’s starting lineup is anticipated to be unaltered, with a back four of Kieran Trippier, Schar, Sven Botman, and Dan Burn starting in front of midfielders Joe Willock, Bruno Guimaraes, and Joelinton the latter of whom suffered an injury against Arsenal but is expected to play against Leeds despite having since returned to training.
Leeds United possible starting lineup
Robles, Ayling, Kristensen, Wober, Firpo, Roca, McKennie, Forshaw, Harrison, Rodrigo and Gnonto.
Newcastle possible starting lineup
Pope, Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn, Willock, Guimaraes, Joelinton, Murphy, Isak and Almiron.
We predict: Leeds United 1-2 Newcastle United
There may be plenty of goalmouth action on Saturday at Elland Road given that Leeds has scored and allowed a goal in each of their past 10 games and Newcastle has done the same in seven of their last 10.
We think Newcastle will resume their winning ways and have the firepower to outscore their opponents, despite the fact that the hosts are desperate for three crucial points in their effort to avoid the drop.