Saturday games with a three o’clock kick off have been quickly disappearing in recent times, with an increase in televised games. What with Sky Sports’ Friday Night Football and Monday Night Football joining Saturday Night Football and Super Sunday, all featuring live games.
In addition to Sky Sports, BT Sport has also risen to prominence, challenging Sky and what with European games and domestic cup ties, as well as the availability and access to foreign games, live football is now available almost daily.
There are many people who welcome the wider access to live football, giving people something good to watch every night on television. However, there are traditionalists who argue that with the new fixture demands, hardcore supporters play second fiddle to television viewers and away trips are often made inconvenient, or in some cases impossible, due to ungodly kick off times.
However, one thing that is even more uncommon than a three o’clock kick-off is to have two fixtures against the same club, both at home, within just a few days of each other, but that is the case this week, with Newcastle v Wolves today and then just a few days later, a repeat performance on Tuesday.
Newcastle go into the first of these games off the back of a 6-0 victory away to QPR and will no doubt be confident of another win.
With Rafa Benitez’ rotation of the side this season, predicting the starting eleven for any game is almost impossible. Having said that, with Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame sitting out the victory midweek, they are live contenders for Benitez in this first game against Wolves. A fresh Gayle and Diame would undoubtedly cause problems for any team in the division.
Chancel Mbemba also sat out the game against QPR and despite the side keeping a clean sheet, with both Ciaran Clark and Grant Hanley also getting on the scoresheet, despite the latter of the two only appearing as a substitute, it would make sense for the quality Mbemba to come back in.
Chancel Mbemba adds a slightly different option to Clark, Hanley and Lascelles. While Clark is comfortable in possession, similar to Mbemba, he does not offer the same level of skill as the DR Congo international.
Mbemba also offers pace and an ability to read the game, something that none of the other centre backs at the club currently offer. With Vurnon Anita playing so many games this season, he will be another candidate to sit out one of the two fixtures against Wolves.
Jesus Gamez offers a direct replacement for Anita, he is comfortable and composed on the ball, keeping it simple with his passing but being happy to receive the ball in almost any situation, as well as choosing when to support attacks or add more to the defensive side of the game. Gamez was not the only right back to join the club during the summer, however. With DeAndre Yedlin also joining from Tottenham Hotspur.
Yedlin is far more attacking than both Gamez and Anita, flying forward at every opportunity and adding a lot to the side from an attacking point of view. Which hints that at some point during the season, there could be a possible change in the dynamic of the side. Yedlin will offer this from right-back, while another summer signing, Achraf Lazaar, will offer the same from the opposite side of the pitch.
Lazaar and yet another summer signing, Daryl Murphy, are not expected to be in the squad for the first Wolves game according to Rafa, but very likely to make their debuts in the second fixture.
With Lazaar coming into the side, Benitez will be left with two options in the Cup. The first of which being to play Yedlin as the other full-back, encouraging the side to pile forward at every opportunity, something that the team does not usually do, therefore potentially using this to confuse Wolves for the second game. The other option would be to play one of Anita or Gamez at right-back, offering much more solidity and cover for when Lazaar attacks down the left hand side.
If Benitez was to go with option one, which seems likely with target man, Murphy, set to start, it would encourage an increased supply into the box with both Yedlin and Lazaar overlapping to deliver the ball. If the side does line up in this way, then Murphy’s partner up front could well be Aleksandar Mitrovic, which would double Newcastle’s aerial threat, readying them for the increased number of balls into the box.
If Benitez chooses to opt for Gamez or Anita in the second game, then it would no doubt encourage Newcastle to use their left hand side to exploit the Wolves defence. This being the case, Christian Atsu could also be in line to play. Atsu also has explosive pace and great trickery, meaning that, if he was to partner Lazaar on the left hand side of the pitch, Newcastle would no doubt use this to double up on the Wolves right back at every opportunity.
Knowing Benitez, there could even be a third plan…but it will certainly be interesting to see what systems Newcastle do use in the two matches as Wolves manager Walter Zenga is kept guessing.
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