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Season Preview: Will internal turmoil bring Newcastle down?

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Newcastle at a glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 2 (last: 1959/60)

FA Cups: 5 (last: 1954/55)

League Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up 1974/75)

FA Community Shield: 1 (1909/10, runners-up 5 times)

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Newcastle’s biggest enemy is itself, and this year might just be the year it brings them down for real.

Soccer’s Jerry Jones has taken flak for years as the Magpies slowly consume themselves from the inside out, yet Mike Ashley continues to trudge on stuck in his ways. No Premier League team would produce a bigger inferno upon relegation than Newcastle. Championship title winners just two years ago, Rafa Benitez has milked everything he can out of a paper-thin squad for the last two years, but if relegation becomes unavoidable, Newcastle’s biggest asset would most certainly walk, and the doom and gloom would spread like wildfire.

It’s somewhat surprpsing that relegation talk swirls after a 10th placed finish last year, but that’s the Benitez effect. The team continues to punch above its weight on paper, all thanks to their all-star manager. Yet the summer transfer window has been another one of frustration, and thus the fan unrest continues.

Can Benitez push the Magpies away from the bottom-tier maelstrom or will Newcastle be pulled into the unescapable cyclone?

Newcastle will finish away from the drop because…everything good Newcastle has stumbled upon the last two years has been attributable to Benitez. With the Spaniard around, most anything is possible. The defense is thin but talented, and the attack has promise. If Newcastle can avoid the injury bug, they can go places.

Newcastle will be relegated because…the squad is razor thin. Florian Lejeune is already out with an ACL tear, and if an injury leaves either Jamaal Lascelles or Martin Dubravka on the sidelines as well, the back line becomes swiss cheese. At the other end there’s a little more depth, but much of the creativity falls to Ayoze Perez, and an injury to the wrong place in that department could bring the team down as well. Mike Ashley hasn’t done enough this summer to instill confidence in fans.

Best possible XI:






Transfers In: Yoshinori Muto ($12.4 million, FSV Mainz), Fabian Schar ($4.6 million, Deportivo La Coruna), Martin Dubravka ($4.6 million, Sparta Prague), Ki Sung-Yueng (Free, Swansea City), Kenedy (Loan, Chelsea).

Transfers Out: Aleksandar Mitrovic ($23.3 million, Fulham), Mikel Merino ($12 million, Real Sociedad), Chance Mbemba ($9.2 million, Porto), Matz Sels ($4.6 million, RC Strasbourg), Massadio Haidara (Free, Lens), Stuart Findlay (Free, Kilmarnock), Jack Colback (Loan, Nottingham Forest).

Ranking their offseason: C

Newcastle received nearly $25 million for Aleksandar Mitrovic from Fulham – a total that was basically a foregone conclusion for weeks, pending Newcastle securing his replacement in Muto – and promptly sat on it. While useful players have been brought in with Schar replacing the injured Lejeune and Dubravka likely to start in net, the team wasn’t necessarily improved in the transfer market, and the squad still has plenty of holes. If they go down, this transfer window will be largely viewed as a big reason why.

Star player: While Ayoze Perez is the lifeblood of the Newcastle attack, nobody is more important to this squad than Jamaal Lascelles. Newcastle resisted heavy interest for his services this summer, and they will be far better off for it. The 24-year-old has developed into one of the best central defenders in the Premier League, and was heavily considered for a spot in the England World Cup squad this summer. If anything happens to him, this squad will come crumbling to pieces, and he would likely leave if they are relegated.

Coach’s Corner: While Lascelles is the most valuable player, nobody is more important to this team than Rafa Benitez. Mike Ashley’s greatest accomplishment was convincing the Spaniard to commit to the club through the one season in the Championship, and it has paid off since. Still, Ashely does little to back his manager, and Benitez has not held back. After a 4-0 defeat to Braga in preseason, Benitez said, “The fans have to be concerned, we are concerned. I’m really worried.” Should the club misstep at all this season, Benitez would surely depart for a bigger club. He’s certainly earned the right.

PST Predicts: While much of this preview has been quite doom and gloom, Newcastle has enough prized possessions to stay up this season. The most concerning part of this offseason has to be the newly promoted clubs spending vast quantities of money to improve, but there should be enough teams worse than Newcastle to prevent the Magpies from suffering heartbreak. Just enough. They should finish around 15th in the table after quite the scare.

PL Sunday preview: Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool all in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures are chock full of title and top-four implications, with three sides — Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool — harboring dreams of the top-four, or higher, in action. Their respective opponents, meanwhile, are thinking to themselves, “Let’s just not get relegated, please.”

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup ]

Aston Villa vs. Arsenal — 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Can Arsenal really challenge for and/or win the title? How much longer can Villa go without winning a game? “Yes” and “a really long time” appear to be the answers to the above questions. The Gunners enter Sunday’s showdown at Villa Park third in the league table, just two points back of leaders Manchester City and Leicester City, while Villa haven’t won a league game since the opening day of the season (that’s 14 games winless) and sit rock bottom of the league, eight points clear of the relegation zone.

Despite Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League triumph to complete the “greatest escape” from the group stage, Arsenal are far from their very best at the moment: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (knee), Francis Coquelin (knee), Jack Wilshere (leg), Mikel Arteta (calf), Danny Welbeck (knee) and Tomas Rosicky (knee) will all miss out through injury. For Villa, the injury news is somewhat encouraging — Micah Richards (knee) should be the only player of real consequence to be missing on Sunday — but the form remains dreadful, with just a single point to show for Remi Garde’s first three games in charge. Arsenal are unbeaten against Villa in their last four meetings (all competitions) with a staggering 14-1 advantage in goals scored.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays | Standings | Stats ]

Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Liverpool have won just 11 of 21 possible points since Jurgen Klopp made his PL debut on Oct. 17 (they won 12 points from the first eight games, under Brendan Rodgers), which leaves the Reds only just inside the top half of the table, 10th, six points off the pace of Manchester United, who currently occupy the fourth and final Champions League place. As for West Brom, they’re there. Currently sitting 13th in the league, they’re six points clear of the relegation zone, capable of finishing anywhere between ninth and 16th at the end of the season.

On the injury front, the Reds are once again without striker Daniel Sturridge, who suffered a hamstring injury last week. Elsewhere, Jordan Ibe (illness) and Mamadou Sakho (knee) will both be game-time decisions on Sunday. For West Brom, Stephane Sessegnon (hamstring) will be unavailable, as will Ben Foster, who’s still recovering from last season’s knee surgery. Liverpool have won two of their last five league meetings with West Brom, which also includes two draws and one win for the Baggies.

[ MORE: Man United lose to Bournemouth | Man City win in stoppage time ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on Live Extra

All Tottenham have to do to leapfrog Man United for the fourth spot is beat 18th-place Newcastle United. Easy, right? Perhaps not, given a recent uptick in form by the Magpies (two wins in their last four games, including a 2-0 victory over Liverpool last week). For Spurs, avoiding defeat on Sunday would mean their unbeaten run goes on and is extended to 15 games. No team in the PL has drawn as many games as Spurs (8). In fact, only two sides have drawn six times this season.

Clinton Njie and Mousa Dembele (foot) have both been ruled out for Spurs, as has Ryan Mason (ankle), who missed last week’s draw away to West Brom. For Newcastle, the injury list is long: Tim Krul (knee) is out for the season, while Steven Taylor (hamstring), Emmanuel Riviere (knee), Gabriel Obertan (hamstring), Massadio Haidara (knee) and Rolando Aarons (foot) are all out. Mike Williamson and Jamaal Lascelles could each return after missing last week’s victory with hamstring injuries. Newcastle won away to Spurs last season before being hammered, 4-0, at White Hart Lane in the League Cup two months later.

Watch Live: Newcastle United vs Norwich City (Lineups & Live Stream)

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There has been plenty of difficulty for Newcastle fans the past few seasons, but nothing like this.

Already bottom of the table, the Magpies have lost goalkeeper Tim Krul for the season to an ACL tear, and must move forward with Robert Elliot and young Freddie Woodman at the position as they look to recover from a winless first eight matches.

Their best chance yet to pick up this season’s first win comes at home against newly promoted Norwich City, live on NBCSN at 11:00 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

There is some good injury news for Toon manager Steve McClaren. Jack Colback, Paul Dummett, and Daryl Janmaat have all returned from injury to make the starting lineup, while Massadio Haidara is fit enough to make the bench.

WATCH LIVE: Newcastle United vs. Norwich City live online at NBC Sports Live Extra

Norwich sits in slightly better shape, out of the relegation zone with nine points through the first eight matches. However, without a win since early September, that pace likely needs to pick up should the Canaries wish to feel safe about next season through the second half of the campaign.

On-loan striker Dieumerci Mbokani will start up front for Norwich with the struggling Cameron Jerome on the bench and Gary Hooper still recovering from an ankle injury. The Congolese frontman scored off the bench in the 2-1 loss to Leicester City before the international break.


Newcastle: Elliot, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Dummett, Sissoko, Tiote, Colback, Wijnaldum, Perez, Mitrovic.
Subs: Woodman, Lascelles, Haidara, Anita, Thauvin, De Jong, Cisse.

Norwich: Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin, Bassong, Olsson; Redmond, Dorrans, Tettey, Brady; Howson; Mbokani.
Rudd, Wisdom, Jerome, Hoolahan, Jarvis, R Bennett, O’Neil.