Newcastle United know the road promoted Cardiff City are taking because they walked it themselves last season. Thus getting at least one point Saturday in Wales is an important task for the Magpies as the Bluebirds play their first Premier League home game since 2014.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
(Note: Arter was not assigned a number as of the time of this writing, hence the “0”)
Newcastle United gave Tottenham Hotspur a challenge before falling 2-1 at St James’ Park last Saturday to open the season. Joselu’s goal on 11 minutes quickly canceled out one by Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen, but a second equaliser was never found after Dele Alli restored Tottenham’s one-goal lead seven minutes later.
The Magpies could justifiably feel aggrieved they did not take one point from this match as both Mo Diame and Salomon Rondon hit the woodwork in the second 45 minutes while shooting at the Gallowgate End. Rondon, one of seven summer signings by Newcastle, knows his side must move on quickly to embrace the challenge of facing new boys Cardiff City.
“We shoot (against) the post twice, but it was not to be for us, which is a shame,” the Venezuela international told the club’s official website. “We know that Cardiff are promoted this season, and it is a difficult league for everyone – all of the teams have spent a lot of money to make a good team for the season.
“It will be difficult, but we just have to think about us – that is more important for the team. It is away, but we just have to think about the win, that is the only way.”
Despite those seven signings, it is the lack of a marquee signing which still rankles Rafael Benitez to a degree – though nowhere near as much as the fans. Newcastle have yet to eclipse their record signing of Michael Owen for £16.5 million in 2005, a stunning fact given the influx of television rights money into the Premier League in the last three years alone – let alone the previous decade.
It was that backdrop as Benitez hedged his frustrations post-match. While acknowledging his team’s fight versus Spurs, the Spaniard sharply noted “when you have money and you buy players, you buy quality, and quality is not just technical ability.”
Benitez will likely be forced into one change to his starting XI since right back DeAndre Yedlin was forced off late with a knee injury as Newcastle used 10 men in stoppage time having made their three substitutions. Yedlin started 31 league matches last term, and Javi Manquillo is the front-runner to take that spot if the United States international is unavailable.
Another of the new signings, Yoshinori Muto, could be an earlier option off the bench with another week of practice and conditioning after a nine-minute runout versus Tottenham. Midfielder Sung-Yueng Ki and defender Fabian Schar were unused newcomers in the first 18.
Cardiff City’s first Premier League home match since being relegated in 2014 follows a 2-0 loss at Bournemouth last Saturday. The Bluebirds did not make much noise in terms of the summer signing window and are relying on the core who got them promoted from the Championship to avoid going back down there, much like Benitez and Newcastle did last term.
That directly contrasts against fellow newcomers Fulham and Wolverhampton, whose combined net outlay exceeded £160 million to avoid being one-season wonders. Cardiff City ranked 17th in summer spending at £28.5 million, ahead of only Newcastle (£17M), Crystal Palace (£9.5M) and Tottenham Hotspur (£0).
“I don’t think any of the boys in our dressing room are afraid,” keeper Neil Etheridge told The Times. “We have got such a good tight group and the gaffer says, ‘Go out and enjoy it’, and we will. And that will get us through the hard times because there will be hard times, undoubtedly.”
That gaffer, Neil Warnock, will have a full complement of players to choose from since Bournemouth loanee and midfielder Harry Arter was ineligible to play against his parent club. Fellow midfielder Victor Camarasa, who joined Cardiff City on loan from Real Betis at the deadline, could also be in line from playing time after watching from the bench.
Striker Kenneth Zohore should be available for at least selection to the 18 and perhaps start after missing the opener with a groin injury. Midfielder and Iceland international Aron Gunnarsson is expected to miss at least two more weeks with a knee injury suffered in preseason.
As is the case with most promoted sides, offence can be a concern in the transition to the next level, and Cardiff City are no different since they play a direct style. Winger Josh Murphy had a positive impact replacing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing just after the hour last weekend, and after the Bluebirds registered one shot on target with 37 percent possession, Warnock may need to tweak his XI to a more adventurous setting.
Newcastle did the double over Cardiff in the 2016-17 Championship en route to promotion and have won 10 straight league matches over the Bluebirds since a 1-0 loss in Division Two in 1981. Cardiff’s lone win in the last 11 overall meetings was a 2-1 third-round upset in the 2014 FA Cup.
Per Ladbrokes, Newcastle are slight favourites at 29/20 odds, while Cardiff City are listed at 21/10. Odds on a draw are squeezed between the sides at 2/1.
Cardiff’s Bobby Reid leads the tote board for any-time goal-scorer at 11/5 odds, followed by both Zohore and Rondon at 5/2. Joselu lurks just behind the pair at 13/5, while Perez and Muto are each getting 14/5 odds on finding the back of the net. For first goal-scorers, Reid again leads the pack at 11/2, with Joselu, Rondon and Zohore at 13/2. Perez is listed at 7/1 odds, behind no-goal scorer at 5/1.
This match will likely not be among the Premier League’s most aesthetic offerings of the season. Cardiff City are still figuring out their best 11, and Newcastle are going to undoubtedly play a cagey defence-first style. The Bluebirds should look to get Junior Hoilett involved early to test Manquillo, and they should have more pace going forward with Arter available and the possible inclusion of Murphy on the wing.
Newcastle did not play all that badly against a near full-strength Spurs side, and were inches from nicking one point on two occasions. Losing Yedlin is not ideal, but Manquillo did start 20 league matches last season, so Benitez is not throwing the Spaniard into the deep end. This looks like a match in which Jonjo Shelvey could provide a moment of decisive creativity that gets Newcastle United up and running.
Prediction: Cardiff City 0, Newcastle United 1
(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)