Saturday morning kicks-off with the second installment of the fantastic Tyne-Wear derby where Sunderland can record their first double over Newcastle since 1967 (watch live on NBCSN at 7:00am ET and online at NBC Live Extra).
Newcastle lost 2-1 at Sunderland back in October making it two straight derby victories for the Mackems, who also won last spring with Paulo Di Canio’s sideline knee-slides forever etched in our memories. The Magpies head into Saturday’s match in a precarious situation having sold their best player Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this week and without star striker Loic Remy, who was hit with a three-match ban following his altercation with Norwich City midfielder Bradley Johnson in last Wednesday’s 0-0 draw.
Prior to Wednesday’s draw the Magpies comprehensively defeated West Ham United 3-1 at Upton Park to stop the bleeding on a three match losing streak (to Arsenal, Manchester City and West Brom). Alan Pardew is likely to hand a debut to on-loan striker Luuk de Jong but will be without Gael Bigiriama (ankle), Fabricio Colocinni (knee) and Ryan Taylor (knee), while Papiss Cisse (back) and Yoan Gouffran (knock) face late fitness tests.
Sunderland enters the match in their best form of the season, unbeaten in their last three matches. Since losing 0-1 to Aston Villa the Black Cats crushed Fulham 4-1, drew 2-2 with Southampton and beat Stoke 2-1, which was enough to put them two points clear of the relegation zone.
While Lee Cattermole (knock), Kieran Westwood (shoulder) and Carlos Cuellar (hip) are all out, Gus Poyet’s side will be boosted by the availability of new Argentine striker Ignacio Scocco and fellow compatriots defender Santiago Vergini and goalkeeper Oscar Ustari.
What They’re Saying
Newcastle striker Luuk De Jong: “I’m really motivated. The first half of the season hasn’t been nice for me because I didn’t play much. I just want to show my talent, score goals and be successful again. That is why I’m here.”
Sunderland winger Adam Johnson: “We’re confident, and if we can pick up some points away from home too we should be fine and there’s the cup final to look forward to. There’s plenty of positives.”
Sunderland have been playing some superb football of late, especially Adam Johnson who looks to be staking his claim on the England World Cup squad. The Black Cats do the double over their staunch rivals.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.