Newcastle – Southampton (Premier League)
12 months ago, both Newcastle and Southampton were facing of a very tough battle. If Alan Pardew managed to hold on to his job (in all likelihood due to his recently signed eight-year contract), Nigel Adkins wasn’t able to do as much and was axed, making way to little-known Mauricio Pochettino. The teams’ supporters will definitely be relieved that this season the two sides meet in 7th and 8th, respectively, and not that far from European football.
Newcastle will be looking to maintain their push for the league places that offer European football, following what has been a very good period for the Geordies. Alan Pardew’s men have won five of their last six Premier League matches (including victories against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur) and will try to get a fourth successive win at St James’ Park that could see them catch fourth-placed Manchester City, if results go their way. Newcastle come from an impressive 1-0 win at Old Trafford and an ever more commanding display, where goalscorer Cabayé was most likely the crucial figure of that match. However, the French star has picked up his fifth booking of the season in Manchester and won’t play any part in Saturday’s match. Newcastle will certainly find comfort in knowing that they have won nine of their latest 10 matches against Southampton. Rayn Taylor is certain to miss as he is still in the recovery stages of his long-term injury, while Mathieu Débuchy should recover in time.
Probable line-up: Krul – Santon, Coloccini, Williamson, Yanga-Mbiwa – Anita, Tioté, Sissoko, Gouffran – Ameobi, Rémy
Southampton were flying when the season started, but their form has nosedived over the past few weeks, with just one point to show from their last four matches. Their fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City were sure to leave some mark, but injuries to key personnel have made things even worse for promising Mauricio Pochettino. The Saints’ defence was chosen by many a pundit as the best of the league in the initial stages of the season, but they ended up conceding more goals in their last four Premier League matches (9) than they had done in the previous 14 (8). Also, the team’s style was said to be most effective when playing away from home, but the cold figures indicate Southampton have only scored 6 goals in their last 10 away matches in the competition, something that Pardew will definitely be happy to hear (even though they boast the league’s highest number of headed goals, on 8). To make matters worse, the Saints haven’t won at St James’ Park since 1997 and haven’t won away from home since last September, when they beat Brendan Rogers’ Liverpool at Anfield. There’s still some good news for the team, who managed to grab a 1-1 draw against Manchester City after giving Pellegrini’s charges all sorts of problems. Record signing and former Roma forward Daniel Osvaldo notched only his third goal of the season and Pochettino will certainly hope his man can build on that. The Argentinean manager claimed Schneiderlin would be playing some part in the match, but not in its entirety, while Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring), Victor Wanyama (leg), Artur Boruc (hand), Kelvin Davis (back), Danny Fox (hamstring) and Guly Do Prado (knee) are expected to miss this one out.
Probable line-up: Gazzaniga – Shaw, Lovren, Fonte, Chambers – Cork, Ward-Prowse – Lallana, Davies, Rodríguez – Osvaldo
Both these teams can proudly say they have slain Manchester United at Old Trafford. Nevertheless, Newcastle’s recent form is in stark contrast with Southampton’s and Pochettino would certainly have preferred to play the Magpies at a different point in time. While Newcastle may be considered favourites considering the differences in teams’ form, Southampton gave Manchester City a good run for their money last week and should not be dismissed. Their proficiency in successfully negotiating set pieces at either end does not bode well for Newcastle. Southampton are one of the best teams in league when they need to protect their lead and the home side, while hugely entertaining and impressive going forward, sometimes fail to prove their consistency throughout the 90 minutes. Lastly, reference should be made to Southampton’s willingness to carve their opponents down the centre, an area that will be weakened by Cabayé’s absence.