Things are looking up for Newcastle United, but the next few weeks, starting today, will be crucial.
A strong festive period has changed the tune around the toon as we enter the business end of the Premier League season. Yet as reassuring as victories over West Ham, Stoke, and Luton Town in the FA Cup have been, it’s important standards don’t drop as the Magpies face winnable games over the second half of January.
Saturday 13th January: Swansea City (Home)
Newcastle United should start their 2018 with a third straight win today. This month, Swansea City has lost to Tottenham and finished 0-0 with Wolves in the FA Cup. With a newly appointed coach, Carlos Carvalhal’s side are bottom of the league with 16 points from 22 matches.
A good result for the Swans could see them off the bottom of the table if ex-Toon coach Alan Pardew fails to lead his West Brom side to a win over Brighton.
Newcastle have already defeated Swansea once this season, a 1-0 victory at the Liberty Stadium secured by club captain Jamal Lascelles, who is available for the return fixture after being taken off as a precaution last time out against Luton.
Nothing less than three points should be acceptable at St. James Park on Saturday, as Newcastle shouldn’t have trouble breaching a poor Swans defence.
Prediction: 2-0 Newcastle
Saturday 20th January: Manchester City (Away)
The toughest fixture all season for the Magpies. Avoiding embarrassment should, unfortunately, be the goal here.
A spirited but ultimately fruitless display last time out against the undefeated league leaders Man City resulted in a 1-0 loss at home. Newcastle will have to pull off a miracle to take points off a side that have only dropped points in two matches all season.
Prediction: 3-0 Manchester City
Sunday 28th January: FA Cup Fourth Round – Norwich or Chelsea (Away)
A chief concern of Newcastle fans in recent years has been the team’s disappointing approach and performance in the cups, but there is history for the Toon in this competition.
Whilst striking a balance between league performance and a cup run can be a challenge for sides struggling to escape the bottom half of the table, progressing deep into the FA Cup would be a great confidence boost for the squad. The smiling faces and group celebrations in the 3-1 victory against Luton town proved it means something to the team.
Fingers crossed for Norwich rather than Chelsea. No score prediction for this one.
Wednesday 31st January: Burnley (Home)
Sean Dyche has received all the plaudits for the vast improvement in his Burnley side this season and the Clarets resolute style was typified in no greater fashion than in their 1-0 victory over Newcastle at Turf Moor in October.
Burnley’s turnaround in their away form from season’s past should worry Newcastle fans, but this is a game where both sides will be comfortable keeping it close and low scoring.
The fixture in October was low on quality and Newcastle controlled the game for periods before their wastefulness in front of goal proved costly.
A draw would be positive here, but taking all three points at home would keep the relegation zone at arm’s length and would be the mark of a side with enough quality sit comfortably near mid-table.
Prediction: 1-0 Newcastle
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With only 9 points separating 10th from 20th and Newcastle United sitting 2 points above the relegation zone, January’s Premier League fixtures could absolutely set the tone for Rafa Benitez and his squad as they progress towards securing Newcastle’s top-flight status for the 2018-19 season.
The aforementioned positives of a cup run would do wonders to change the mood around Tyneside, especially given the uncertainty that mires the club in regards to its possible sale and the lack of activity in the January transfer window that has been a product of all the takeover talk. However, the focus should remain on the Premier League.
With two very winnable games at home, six points from three matches could see the Toon rise towards the top half of the table, making the first month of 2018 a key cog in the gears of returning Newcastle United to their rightful place as one of the biggest clubs in England.