Tuesday 20 March 2018

Can Rafael Benitez save Newcastle? A game-by-game assessment

Newcastle will need a repeat of their win over Norwich, when Georginio Wijnaldum scored four goals
Newcastle will need a repeat of their win over Norwich, when Georginio Wijnaldum scored four goals

Rafael Benitez took on the challenge of dragging Newcastle back from the brink of Barclays Premier League relegation on Friday when he replaced the sacked Steve McClaren at the helm.

He will have just 10 games in which to ease the club, who currently sit in 19th place and a point adrift of safety, out of relegation trouble.

Here, Press Association Sport's Newcastle reporter Damian Spellman assesses the Magpies' chances of avoiding the drop.

March 14: Leicester (a)

Benitez's men will be given little chance of upsetting the odds away to leaders Leicester in the first game of the post-McClaren era, having been trounced 3-0 by the Foxes in the reverse fixture in November.

Prediction: Defeat

March 20: Sunderland (h)

Newcastle have lost the one game they cannot afford to lose on each of the last six occasions, under three different managers, and that record cannot be extended against their neighbours and relegation rivals if they are to stave off the worst.

Prediction: Draw

April 2: Norwich (a)

McClaren's men hit Norwich for six when they headed for St James' Park earlier in the season, with Georginio Wijnaldum bagging four goals, and if they can rediscover that sort of form they could enjoy a rare positive on the road.

Prediction: Win

April 9: Southampton (a)

The South Coast has rarely been a happy hunting ground for the Magpies even when they have had good sides, and it would be a real shock if the class of 2016 returned from St Mary's with anything to show for their efforts.

Prediction: Defeat

April 16: Swansea (h)

One of several six-pointers, Swansea's visit to Tyneside could prove a pivotal moment in the club's rearguard action and it will be a game they will have to target if they are to succeed.

Prediction: Win

April 23: Liverpool (a)

Trips to Anfield have proved anything but fruitful in recent years and with Jurgen Klopp's men pushing for European qualification once again, they will be intent on gaining revenge for their 2-0 defeat at St James' on December 6.

Prediction: Defeat

April 30: Crystal Palace (h)

Should former Newcastle head coach Alan Pardew return to Tyneside still awaiting a first league victory of 2016, the locals who celebrated his departure in December 2014 would take great delight in extending that run further.

Prediction: Win

May 7: Aston Villa (a)

No-one of the black and white persuasion will need any reminder that the last time the club slipped out of the top flight in 2009, they did so courtesy of a 1-0 final-day defeat at Villa Park, much to the amusement of the home fans - although they are unlikely to be laughing this time around whatever happens, with their own side surely bound for the drop.

Prediction: Draw

May 15: Tottenham (h)

Newcastle have won on each of their last three trips to Tottenham, including their 2-1 success there in December, but have fared significantly less well at home in recent seasons and with the Londoners flying, this may not be the year to turn that run of form around.

Prediction: Defeat

TBC: Manchester City (h)

The Magpies have not collected a single league point against City in their last 12 attempts and were trounced 6-1 at the Etihad Stadium in October despite taking the lead.

Prediction: Defeat


That run of results would see Newcastle add 11 points to their current total of 24, leaving them with 35 - significantly short of both the accepted finishing line of 40 and Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce's predicted safety mark of 38.

Significantly, however, it is one more than they managed during the 2008-09 campaign, and it might well have kept them up on that occasion.

Press Association

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