Hello and welcome all to the first preview of the new season, and what a season it promises to be. After such a bad time in every aspect last year, the arrival of Rafa Benitez has brought unfamiliar optimism. Utilizing his reputation and strong character, not to forget Newcastle’s desperation, Rafa has pulled apart a failed business model of tight purse strings, low aspiration and speculative investments in unproven, young players. In its place a more singular, focused and inspiring pattern is emerging. Whilst it would be human nature may be tempting to look at our 09/10 total of 102 point and say we’ll beat it, if any club can fail from a position of such strength, it would be NUFC.
We kick the season off on Friday with a trip to Craven Cottage, the site of five consecutive losses in the league for Newcastle. Our last game in 2014 saw a struggling Fulham gain a vital 1-0 win for their ultimately fruitless survival bid, whilst Alan Pardew served the first of a three game ban for headbutting David Meyler. The last Newcastle win at the Cottage came in 2007, a poor quality match with a last minute Joey Barton penalty temporarily easing the pressure on Sam Allardyce.
The players are working very hard and they are ready. We know the Championship is very difficult but we have the hope and belief that we can do well. We have a lot of respect for Fulham. They beat Crystal Palace 3-1 and have a good manager. It will not be an easy game.
Under the new ownership of Shahid Khan since 2013, Fulham have spent big on players such as £12.5m Kostantinos Mitroglou and Championship record £11m Ross McCormack, however Fulham have not been able to arrest a downward trajectory. Our hosts ended last ended last season narrowly avoiding relegation in 20th place, a sharp fall from the heights of the 2010 Europa league final under Roy Hodgson (whatever happened to him).
Fulham are going into the season bereft of two key forwards, Dembele and McCormack. The former has emerged in the past two years as a bright prospect for Fulham, with increasing game time and influence as the team dropped down divisions. Some had tipped the 20 year old Frenchman to go onto the top half of the premier league and even the French national squad, but many were surprised/disappointed when he joined Celtic in the Summer. McCormack was very much star man and main goalscorer and new signing Sone Aluko (his sister is better) is required to replace those goals. Manager Slaviša Jokanović has experienced promotion to the premier league in his brief stint through Watford’s revolving doors, but Fulham are unfortunately tipped more often for the bottom half of the league.
It’s the start of the Championship and it’s a good moment at the beginning to play against a strong team, they are a clear example of how complicated this competition is going to be. They invested a lot of money and there’s a lot of expectation in front of them. At the same time, we are a big club too and we’re going to arrive with similar ambition to Newcastle. It’s a great moment for us to open this competition against a very important team. We’re playing at our home, in front of our supporters, and we have to be strong and approach it in a positive way. It’s a very strong league. It’s very exciting, it’s very hard, very tough. There are many big names in this competition, we are a big name too. I arrived here because I want to be successful, and this is a great chance for me to work at a big club like Fulham. Around us are many important names and we have to be ready to compete against them…
Now we start with a really important game. I believe the players understand very well what we need to do to compete this year. It will be different to last year.
Toon old boy Scott Parker remains at Fulham and if he wins, expect him to look as overjoyed as when he lifted the Intertoto cup for our club.
When the fixtures came out I don’t think we could have had a better one. We have one of the title contenders coming down to play against us. It’s a perfect start for us. There’s a real incentive for us to go and beat a top side. It would give us huge confidence to push on to the next few games.
Our fans will be really important because Newcastle will bring a massive support with them and it will be eventful. It’s a massive game on Friday and we are looking forward to it.
I have been involved in teams that have had disastrous pre-seasons then gone on and won the first five games and vice versa. In terms of results sometimes they breed confidence and it becomes a habit. We had a tough game against a strong Crystal Palace side and came out 3-1 winners and we have had some good games along the way, the only one we have lost is against Real Betis with a penalty in the dying minutes.
A major success of Mr Khan’s tenure was the removal of the infamously ill-judged Micheal Jackson statue. It might not mattered to Mr Jackson if you are black or white, but to us it matters who is in black and white. And that acts as a terrible segway into…
What will Newcastle bring us this year, more misery and dulling of passions, or a resurgence? From the signs so far, a more cohesive and well organised team will emerge from a more empowered manager. One expects a massive improvement on direction and spirit from last year, when the team often didn’t know their abc from their 123s.
But it will be far from easy, the Championship is a long hard slog, with tough periods of bad form and injuries to weather. I remember the time the likes of Zurab Khizanishvili, Fabrice Pancrate and Fitz Hall came into our previous Championship campaigns to ‘do a job’. Versatile, if not astounding players, such as Clark have been earmarked for this purpose. For similar reason this could also be a big season for young players, speed demon Aarons is hoping to stay fit and fulfill his fleetingly shown potential, Adam Armstrong prefers to stay and fight for a place over a loan to another Championship side and Jamie Sterry is now firmly part of the first team squad.
It seems Sels will start the season in goal, but when Krul and Elliott return competition will be fierce. Who is it that will emerge as first choice? I wouldn’t bet against the quiet confidence of Elliott. Not only do we have cover at centre back and fullback, we are beginning to see signs of healthy competition for places. In the goalscoring department, we have Gayle’s experience at this level, alongside the promise of Mitro, Perez and Armstrong and Diame to look for goals from midfield.
Our captain for the season has been named as Jamaal Lascelles, the young centre back with only 18 Newcastle appearances but a growing reputation for hard work and refreshing honesty about team performances. His debut season at age 19 ended four years ago with a loan at Stevenage, what would that youngster have thought about the man in the mirror becoming Newcastle captain at 22?
— Jamaal Lascelles (@Lascelles16) August 4, 2016
Aleksandar Mitrovic (ban), Moussa Sissoko (soon to depart), Massadio Haidara, Emmanuel Riviere, Siem De Jong, Tim Krul and Rob Elliot (injury) are all ruled out. The game will be too soon for recent signings Clark and Diame.
I believe a 442 will be the basic formation used on Friday, without Diame to head a three man midfield. With the lack of height in our new no 9, I believe Perez will stick close to aide in ball retention. I’ve chosen Hanley over Mbemba somewhat arbitrarily, I’m very interested to see if Rafa opts for Hanley’s 2nd tier experience for this first game. At left back Dummett looks set to continue witha puacity of left footed options. This formation has no place for Anita, which maybe is my misreading of Rafa’s intentions.
I suspect Fulham will try and pack out the midfield, which could slow the game, possibly not a Championship Thriller. Having unusually gotten swept up in the positivity at NUFC, I’m going for an unusually optimistic 1 -0 away win, with Janmaat scoring the goal.
Simon Hooper – His first time refereeing Newcastle United, granted his first premier league games last season
Where to watch
This game is on Sky Sports One, BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio 5 Live in the UK
First game of the season, everyone is pretty excited and you haven’t been disappointed yet. The best possible time to jump into the forum and have a say in the match discussion thread.
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