Newcastle United head to Elland Road in their bid to seal Champions League qualification this weekend as they look to bounce back from Sunday’s defeat against Arsenal.
Eddie Howe was not overly concerned by the manner of performance at St James’ Park but will certainly be looking for some improvement in certain areas. United looked a little sluggish on both goals with Arsenal’s title-challenging stars allowed time and space to impose exactly what they wanted to do on Newcastle.
But in terms of creating opportunities, Howe probably can’t complain with United twice denied by a lick of paint with Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak both denied by the woodwork. For all the disappointment of the defeat against Mikel Arteta’s side, it’s nothing a week on the training ground won’t solve.
Here’s six talking points ahead of the crunch encounter against Leeds.
The midfield battle will be absolutely key
Leeds were aggresive in Sam Allardyce’s opening encounter against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium as they clocked up 16 fouls with three of his players shown the yellow card. As the Magpies fell to Arsenal on Sunday, it was Granit Xhaka who was allowed to effectively run the show, stamping his authority, committing fouls and breaking up play at key times when Newcastle were looking to create some momentum.
That can’t happen at Elland Road. And United need to set the tone early on in the engine room.
Many felt that the absence of Sean Longstaff was a major factor in the 2-0 loss to the Gunners. But if Longstaff is missing again, the less glamorous stuff is likely to win or lose the game.
Howe knows he can rely on Joelinton, Bruno Guimaraes and Joe Willock to stand up to a fierce battle in the middle – they’ve done it before – and the trio’s focus will be absolutely vital. Set the tone in the first 15 minutes and it could be the key to three vital points.
Joelinton shakes off concerning knock
The Brazilian limped out of St James’ Park on Sunday night and looked in pain after the loss against Arsenal following a late substitution. But the good news is he has trained in the build-up to Leeds.
Joelinton has dropped back into his midfield enforcer role in Longstaff’s absence and Howe will be pleased to be able to name him on the team sheet this weekend. His towering presence could be vital with Big Sam known to throw the kitchen sink at sides when the pressure is on.
Understanding the occasion
Eddie Howe did this well last time around when Newcastle visited Elland Road. It’s far from a local derby but as the two steely northen cities go head to head, it’s one you just don’t want to lose.
Elland Road has an edge to it and Newcastle tackled that last season in the 1-0 win back in January. It took a Jonjo Shelvey free-kick to win it last time around, and most United fans would happily take a scrappy hard-earned victory.
Leeds players will be aiming to ruffle Magpies’ feathers
After Leeds players rattled Newcastle during the 0-0 draw on New Year’s Eve this season, the club took to social media to warn United: “Don’t mess with Leeds”. Back then Mateusz Kilch and Tyler Adams got into Jacob Murphy as he scurried to get the ball with Newcastle trying to win the game with Adams blasting a spare ball at the one that was supposed to be in play.
Goalkeeper Illan Meslier also got in tussles with Fabian Schar and Callum Wilson. And while Meslier is not set to play this weekend, others will be looking to test Newcastle’s stars.
Staying cool when it comes to the bigger picture
Let’s face it, Newcastle might only need two more wins from their remaining two fixtures with a couple of home games on the horizon against Brighton and Leicester City. Both players and Howe stated after the game that the situation is in “our hands”.
Regardless of Liverpool’s late surge, United can qualify for the Champions League in the space of five days if they win both their games against Leeds then the Seagulls and the Reds slip up. Newcastle should take confidence from that and know that this isn’t the time to panic.
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