After a spell of a long few weeks without playing any competitive matches, I am hoping that the three-week break has not broken our mojo of good form in 2018 having only experienced defeat against Man City, Chelsea (FA Cup) and Liverpool – games where we were expected to lose. Since the match against Southampton, this is the most confident that I have felt throughout the season that we will avoid relegation. I think that survival is in our own hands and, God forbid, if we get relegated, we will only have ourselves to blame. With some teams around our 13th place having already played their 31st league match, we find ourselves four points clear of the drop and, in addition to this, we have the strongest goal difference out of all the teams in the bottom twelve. Out of our remaining eight matches, we will be playing two of the current bottom six (Huddersfield and West Brom) both at home.
In preparation for the upcoming matches, Matt Ritchie has unfortunately returned with an injury following his time with playing for Scotland during the international break. With Ritchie potentially absent for the Huddersfield match, it seems that Jacob Murphy will return for another spell in the first team. During late December and through January earlier this season, Murphy was the one who was keeping Ritchie out of the Starting XI after hitting an excellent run of form and grabbed himself his first Newcastle goal in the process against Man City.
At the time of writing this, Islam Slimani is still currently on international duty with Algeria and, according to the Shields Gazette, he could start when Algeria take on Iran. However, Rafa Benitez, also according to the Shields Gazette, has said that Slimani will not be thrown straight into the first team and will have to work his way through the competition he has up against him in the remaining matches he has on Tyneside. There was little doubt among most fans that a striker was needed in the January transfer window, however whilst we might not have been prolific in front of goal, our defence has been a big inspiration for the good position that we find ourselves in. With Lascelles missing out on a place in the England squad, he may play these next few matches with fresh motivation and vigour as he fights to break into Gareth Southgate’s good books for the World Cup. Our record of matches without Lascelles this season speaks volumes having played five matches and lost four, drawn one. Lascelles’ ever-presence in 2018 has seen that we have the joint fifth best defence in the league since the turn of the calendar year.
With only eight matches remaining in the season and to make up for the lack of club football recently, I think now is a good time to look at the Premier League table since the turn of the calendar year.
1st: Tottenham (Won: 7, Drawn: 3, Lost: 0, GD: 15, Pts: 24)
With Tottenham busy with still being in FA Cup, our first trip to the “new” Wembley Stadium had to be postponed. It is quite a hopeful thing to say that, if the rescheduled match comes very late on in the season, we may confirm our survival before that match takes place but, even so, if we are to have a chance against Tottenham, we may have to rely on the possibility of Spurs not having anything to play for.
2nd: Man City (Won: 7, Drawn: 1, Lost: 1, GD: 16, Pts: 22)
It was back in January where we interpreted playing Manchester City a second time as a blessing with many other teams still needing to play against the inevitable title winners. Fans will probably be glad to know that the Citizens are still yet to play four teams (Swansea, Huddersfield, West Ham and Southampton) out of the seven teams currently below us.
3rd: Liverpool (Won: 7, Drawn: 1, Lost: 2, GD: 15, Pts: 22)
4th: Man United (Won: 7, Drawn: 0, Lost: 2, GD: 8, Pts: 21)
In my view, the win against Man United in February is my favourite moment of the season so far. I listened to the match whilst on a train to London and I could not contain myself when Ritchie scored, letting out a split secondly loud “YEAHHH” before I quickly realised where I was. Thankfully the other passengers understood.
5th: Bournemouth (Won: 4, Drawn: 4, Lost: 2, GD: 0, Pts: 16)
6th: Swansea (Won: 4, Drawn: 3, Lost: 2, GD: 2, Pts: 15)
It is safe to say that Carlos Carvalhal has proved me wrong after I wrote Swansea off following his appointment. However, Swansea are not safe just yet and they still have work to do but they are now in a much better position since Carvalhal took the job on at the Liberty Stadium.
7th: Leicester (Won: 3, Drawn: 4, Lost: 2, GD: 3, Pts: 13)
8th: Newcastle (Won: 3, Drawn: 4, Lost: 2, GD: 1, Pts: 13)
9th: Everton (Won: 4, Drawn: 1, Lost: 5, GD: -6, Pts: 13)
It feels nice to be superior to Sam Allardyce in something.
10th: Brighton (Won: 3, Drawn: 3, Lost: 3, GD: -2, Pts: 12)
I think Chris Hughton has done a fabulous job at the AMEX Stadium and it is great to see him have a successful return to the Premier League that has been helped by the performances of Pascal Gross.
11th: West Ham (Won: 3, Drawn: 3, Lost: 4, GD: -5, Pts: 12)
With David Moyes keeping the Hammers afloat following Slaven Bilic’s departure earlier in the season, the London club still has a lot of work to do to avoid relegation. Following the ugly scenes at their last home match against Burnley with fans angling their anger towards the board, the captain Mark Noble has called for unity among fans because the ugly atmosphere would not have helped the team and they will hope that they do not witness a reply of those altercations.
12th: Crystal Palace (Won: 3, Drawn: 2, Lost: 5, GD: 0, Pts: 11)
Having made a good start to the year and climbing up the actual Premier League table, Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace have seen them slip dangerously close to the relegation zone following a run of defeats from very difficult fixtures.
13th: Chelsea (Won: 3, Drawn: 2, Lost: 4, GD: 0, Pts: 11)
It has been a very difficult 2018 so far for Chelsea by their high standards: Out of the EFL Cup to Arsenal, out of the Champions League with double the spice (nutmeg) and inconsistent in the Premier League sees them five points adrift of the top four.
14th: Watford (Won: 3, Drawn: 2, Lost: 5, GD: -9, Pts: 11)
15th: Arsenal (Won: 3, Drawn: 1, Lost: 5, GD: 2, Pts: 10)
The sorry situation at Arsenal has left me feeling sorry for Arsene Wenger. Whilst growing up and learning about football from my early years, I learnt so much from the Arsenal side of a couple of generations ago. But he will hold that claim of the invincible season in 2003/04 which was a joy to witness and I hope Arsenal win the Europa League because it is what Wenger deserves in my view.
16th: Burnley (Won: 2, Drawn: 3, Lost: 4, GD: 0, Pts: 9)
Despite a difficult start to the calendar year for Burnley, European football next season remains a possibility and that would be an incredible achievement for Sean Dyche who, I think, is an excellent manager.
17th: Southampton (Won: 1, Drawn: 5, Lost: 3, GD: -5, Pts: 8)
18th: Stoke (Won: 1, Drawn: 4, Lost: 5, GD: -4, Pts: 7)
The Potters were on a sinking ship with Mark Hughes after he had lost the dressing room. However, the appointment of Paul Lambert returning to the Premier League, after being sacked by Aston Villa in 2015, was a surprise move for some and it is a move that has not worked any wonders with their only league win of 2018 coming at home to Huddersfield.
19th: Huddersfield (Won: 2, Drawn: 1, Lost: 7, GD: -13, Pts: 7)
With Huddersfield having a very difficult run in of fixtures, something special is going to have to come from the Terriers if they are to avoid the drop because seven defeats from the previous ten matches does not make for good reading. However, considering the special ‘against the odds’ circumstances in which they gained promotion last season, I hope the club sticks with David Wagner.
20th: West Brom (Won: 1, Drawn: 1, Lost: 8, GD: -12, Pts: 4)
With one disaster after another unfolding at the Hawthorns, it seems that West Brom will be saying goodbye to their eight-year stay in the Premier League.