The panic may have subsided at Newcastle United, but there are concerns about a possible crisis of confidence for Watford, who look to get off the foot of the table at the Magpies’ expense Saturday at St James’ Park.
(Potential Starting XIs)
Already short of patience following Rafa Benitez’s departure to China over the summer, back-to-back losses by Newcastle (1-0-2) to start the campaign further darkened the mood around Tyneside, which included a less-than-capacity crowd in the lid-lifter versus Arsenal.
Manager Steve Bruce hit back at claims his players did not know where they should be positioned and then showed his tactical acumen in helping Newcastle pull off a 1-0 stunner at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Facing up to the reality of the gap in talent between the sides, Bruce switched out of the 3-5-2 he used in the first two matches into a 5-4-1 that remained compact and had summer signing Joelinton operating as a sole striker.
The record £44 million transfer rewarded the gaffer’s formation switch by opening his Newcastle account on 27 minutes with a fine strike after being sent through by Christian Atsu. From there it was solid – and at times, desperate – defending as Newcastle whistled past the graveyard when a VAR challenge did not award a penalty after what looked to be a foul by Jamaal Lascelles on Harry Kane, but the Magpies were deserved winners.
“To win away against Spurs is fantastic,” defender Fabian Schar told the club’s official website. “It was a great job from all the guys. I think it was very important to get that better feeling for the rest of the season. We know the first two games weren’t successful but now we have an important win away. It’s good for our confidence and I’m really happy.”
But as has been the case with Newcastle in recent seasons, the momentum proved fleeting. In the only second-round Carabao Cup tie between Premier League sides, United came up second-best to Leicester City on Wednesday, bowing out on penalties after playing to a 1-1 draw as both Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden missed from the spot.
Bruce made seven changes to the side that beat Tottenham, with an eye on this match to gain further separation from the last-place Hornets, leaving out Joelinton and Miguel Almiron while swapping out No. 1 Martin Dubravka for Karl Darlow. The Magpies boss defended the decision, though he still may have paid a heavy price describing outside midfielder Matt Ritchie as “in a mess” after a challenge from Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury.
“We fear ankle damage, he’s got three stitches in his leg. I don’t want players sent off but when it’s horror challenges, it isn’t good,” Bruce told the Chronicle Live.
Other outside winger Emil Krafth picked up a thigh bruise and could be questionable for this match as well.
Watford, who made a surprising run to the FA Cup final last year before being smashed by Manchester City, still look to be recovering from that six-goal hangover. The Hornets are the only team in the top flight without a point through three matches, but they did gain their bearings with a 3-0 victory over Championship side Coventry City on Tuesday to advance in the League Cup. Record signing Ismalia Sarr opened the scoring on 37 minutes, and Watford got second-half markers from Daryl Janmaat and Adalberto Penaranda to take some of the mounting pressure off manager Javi Gracia ahead of this contest.
Gracia is without striker Troy Deeney for at least the next two months following knee surgery for the talisman, which means Sarr may have to step up acclimating to his new surroundings following his £40 million move from Rennes.
“It’s always been my dream since I was a child to join the Premier League in England,” the 21-year-old told Premier League Productions. “I think I bring everything. I can bring a lot to the whole team. It’s my team now. I can do a lot. I am fast, I can score. I can do everything for this team.”
Also for debate is whether Gracia will again go with a 4-2-3-1 look similar to last week’s 3-1 home loss to West Ham United. Watford has usually opted for a 4-2-2-2 look with Wil Hughes and Roberto Pereyra wide, but Gracia tried using Tom Cleverley in a distribution role in the middle to little effect.
“It’s true we need to change something to our results,” Gracia told the club’s official website. “We’ll see how many changes but the solution is not always to change the players. The players we have we need to improve.
“We have a lot of games to play and we have to be ready. I try to look for the best way to find the XI to start and look for the solution for this game.”
Newcastle took four of six points in last term’s meetings, including a 1-0 victory in the corresponding fixture on Ayoze Perez’s goal on 65 minutes. Watford gained a measure of revenge with a 2-0 win in the fourth round of the FA Cup via second-half goals by Andre Gray and Isaac Success and improved to 6-1-1 in the last eight meetings in all competitions.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes
To Win: Newcastle 33/20; Draw 11/5; Watford 33/20
Both Teams to Score: Yes 3/4; No 19/20
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: Over Evens; Under 7/10
First Goal Scorer Newcastle United: Joelinton 5/1; Muto 6/1; Almiron, Longstaff 9/1; Shelvey 11/1
First Goal Scorer Watford: Gray, Welbeck 11/2; Deulofeu 6/1; Success 8/1; Pereyra 17/2
Anytime Goal Scorer Newcastle United: Joelinton 23/10; Muto 11/4; Almiron, Longstaff 4/1; Shelvey 9/2
Anytime Goal-Scorer Watford: Gray, Welbeck 5/2; Deulofeu 13/5; Success 10/3; Pereyra 7/2
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 0, Watford 0.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Newcastle United 0, Watford 0.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: No Goal-Scorer
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS
Chelsea (1-1-1) vs. Sheffield United (1-1-1)
Leicester City (1-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (1-1-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (1-1-1)
Everton (0-2-1) vs. Wolverhampton (0-3-0)
(Steve Bruce photo courtesy Newcastle United FC official Twitter account)