Preview: Newcastle Utd vs Stoke City – 26/12/13

Match preview by Cal, click here to go the our match discussion thread

Boxing Day sees two sides battling it out on the back of wins topping off surges up the table through the second quarter of the season, Newcastle going from mid-table to flirting with the idea of a return to the Europa League, and Stoke from teetering on the edge of the relegation zone to the comfort of mid-table. This is only Newcastle’s second home Boxing Day game in eleven years, of which we’ve only won a single game, beating Bolton 2-0 two years ago.

Last season this fixture saw Stoke visit St James’ on a Sunday sandwiched between Europa League last 16 matches for the hosts against Anzhi. Following a bland first half where Newcastle failed to make anything of their possession, Cheick Tioté conceded a penalty which Walters converted with 23 minutes to go. This proved to be the wake-up call Newcastle needed and they hit back 5 minutes later via a sublime captain Cabaye free-kick from the edge of the box that clipped the crossbar on its way in.

Marveaux found Cissé with an incisive pass in injury time for him to coolly slot home a 90+ minute winner, a feat he’d repeat four days later to see Newcastle progress in the Europa League. This win put us into 13th on 33 points, 7 clear of danger, with 9 games to go, and saw Pardew proclaim that we were safe from the drop. Campbell and Haïdara made their Premier League debuts in this match, with the latter playing from the start.

Except for a disappointing loss to Swansea, Newcastle have been in great form since the start of November, racking up 6 wins in 8 games, which should see Pardew’s men go into the game with some confidence. Our home form is also looking good, if a bit draw heavy (P8 W4 D3 L1), with our only loss at St James’ in the league being at the hands of Hull, however the visitors have notched up one more point at home.

In contrast, Stoke have been poor on the road this season, picking up just 5 points in 8 games, those points coming from a win over West Ham and draws with Hull and Swansea. While the Potters have struggled for goals all season, they’ve actually scored 7 goal away from home (0.875/game), compared to 6 at home despite an extra game. Their defensive record away from the Britannia is poor too, conceding 15 goals (1.875/game). While those stats might make good reading for Newcastle fans, over the last 6 games Stoke have picked up only 2 fewer points than Newcastle, putting the clubs 6th and 4th in the form table respectively, so they likely won’t be pushovers.

Newcastle will be weakened by the suspension of Tioté following his fifth yellow card of the season resulting in a one match ban. This is particularly troublesome as the midfield destroyer is neck and neck and Debuchy for ToonForumIndex player of the season so far, and when Pardew was without Cabaye against Southampton we saw him revert to 4-4-2 rather than going beyond Anita in the central midfield pecking order or taking Sissoko off the wing. On that note, however, Pardew favourite Gutiérrez has been recovering from his compassionate leave and may be fit to feature. It’s also possible that Pardew will begin to dip into our available fringe players and youngsters such as Bigirimana, who hasn’t played for the first team since August, or Marveaux, who has been missing since September.

Then we have the issue of Hatem Ben Arfa, in his recent substitute appearances he has impressed and changed the game, striking fear into the heart of opposition defenders, but then failing to make something of it or not having his team mates capitalise on the chances created, although he was given the penalty earned by Shola after the two caused the Palace defence trouble. However both Gouffran and Sissoko have been in good form of late, and Pardew’s experiments with Ben Arfa in the centre have failed, making it hard to justify including the mercurial one. Some have called for Gouffran to make way for Ben Arfa due to tending to have a good half hour or so and then go missing, but I feel that it would be unwise to go with a Santon & Ben Arfa left flank against Walters & Cameron.

This is how I’d set-up our side:

<debuchy> <willo> <colo> <santon>
<cabaye> <sissoko> <anita>
<hba> <remy> <gouff>

Essentially the same team Pardew went with at Palace, but with Sissoko moved into the middle to make up for Tioté’s absence, and also to make room for Ben Arfa to return to the starting line-up. As for what Pardew will go with, I suspect Shola will start again, with the hope that he’ll be capable of dealing with Shawcross and Wilson to buy Rémy space, and we’ll go back to the 4-4-2, albeit with Anita and Cabaye in the middle. Hopefully he will stick with the 4-3-3 cum 4-5-1 though, we don’t want to get overrun in midfield against the 4-2-3-1 that Hughes’ Stoke play.

Stoke will be without Huth, who is out until the new year, but may have Etherington back to fitness following a back injury, although he has only played 99 minutes of first-team football since mid-September so is unlikely to start. It’s likely that Charlie Adam’s heroics from the bench will earn him a place ahead of the ineffective Arnautovic that he replaced at half-time against Villa, however it’s hard to predict exactly who Hughes will play as the midfield 5 of his 4-2-3-1 hasn’t been the same in back-to-back games recently, if ever.

A possible Stoke line-up:

Cameron – Shawcross – Wilson – Pieters
Whelan – N’Zonzi
Walters – Adam – Ireland

While Stoke’s recent form and our usual inability to win on Boxing Day suggest otherwise, I’m oddly optimistic about this match. My prediction is that Rémy will break his 5 game goal drought, if it can be called that yet, in the first half and we’ll look strong up until the break. As always we’ll come back out a bit more reserved and let them into the game for 20 minutes, during which time a back four without Tioté covering them and being troubled by Crouch will concede from a counter attack or set piece, before a substitute, be it Ben Arfa, Cissé or whoever else, bags us the winner. 2-1 and a bit of festive cheer for a change.

Where to Watch/Listen

The matchday box office is open until kick-off, prices start at £20 for adults and £5 for concessions.

There is no domestic televised coverage. Radio commentary will be on BBC Newcastle (local) and talkSPORT (international).

How do you think we’ll do against the Potters? Can we get a rare Boxing Day victory? Have your say in our match discussion thread here.

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