Two sides heading in opposite directions in the table face each other on Wednesday night as Newcastle United host Everton at St James’s Park.
Newcastle marked the club’s 125th anniversary with a 3-2 loss to Leicester City on Saturday which showed no shortage of fight but extended the team’s winless run to seven games, including six defeats. Newcastle could drop into the relegation zone unless they win, and with Arsenal and Man City to come in the next few weeks they will be desperate to pick up points against an Everton side who have returned to the top ten under former Magpies manager Sam Allardyce.
With owner Mike Ashley still in talks to sell the club and former players lining up to criticise the running of the club, it is hard to avoid the ‘club in crisis’ narrative. Most of United’s problems on the pitch have come in defence. Since captain Jamaal Lascelles picked up an ankle injury against Bournemouth they have conceded 14 goals in just five games. Lascelles was on the bench against Leicester, and should return to the side, giving a welcome boost to beleaguered Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez.
Christian Atsu may also return to the starting line-up after a cameo against Leicester, and his pace will offer a difficult challenge to the aging Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams in the Everton defence.
Sam Allardyce has seen Everton’s form improve in recent weeks, although they were a little fortunate to escape Anfield with a point on Sunday. Seven points from three games has given them a comfortable buffer from the relegation zone, and with just one goal conceded in those games they already bear the hallmarks of a Big Sam side. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney are back among the goals too, bringing a sense of optimism to the blue half of Liverpool at last. Their away form, however, continues to be dismal, with four points and no wins on the road this season.
They have no new injury concerns, so expect an unchanged eleven from Allardyce. Aaron Lennon is an obvious alternative option on the wings to Rooney and Sigurdsson, who both have a tendency to cut inside and crowd the middle of the pitch.
What time does it start?
Newcastle United vs Everton is at 19:45 on Wednesday night.
Where can I watch it?
Highlights will be available in Match of the Day, at 22.45 on Wednesday on BBC.
It’s a big game for…
Dominic Calvert-Lewin. While Calvert-Lewin offers a solution to Everton’s pace problem, his goal-scoring record has not been good enough for a striker who has played every game for the Toffees this season. Two goals in 16 league appearances, most of which were as central striker, means Allardyce may not persist with the 20-year-old too much longer, although his general contribution to play is good with six assists in the league so far.
With attacking players like Bolasie and Barkley returning in the next month, Calvert-Lewin must start scoring if he is to retain his place. A fragile Newcastle defence offers the former Sheffield United man a golden opportunity to stake his claim.
The youngster has struggled for youngsters this season (Getty Images)
Everton have won their last three games against Newcastle without conceding a goal, and with a combined score of 7-0.
Player to watch…
Dwight Gayle. Often cited as the archetypal Championship striker, Gayle has struggled to make the step up to the Premier League in the past, scoring just 15 goals in three top-flight seasons for Crystal Palace. But the 27-year-old has proved his doubters wrong recently with three goals in four games, and will hope to be on the winning side for Newcastle for the first time since September, having missed their last win over Palace through injury. His little-and-large partnership with Joselu is beginning to bear fruit too, with Gayle setting the Spaniard up for a goal on Saturday.
Gayle has scored three from his last four games (Getty)
Previous three meetings…
Everton 3 Newcastle United 0, Premier League, February 2016
Newcastle United 0 Everton 1, Premier League, December 2015
Everton 3 Newcastle United 0, Premier League, March 2015
Newcastle United: LLDLL
Newcastle United: 13/10