Goals at a premium at St James's
Bottom of the league Fulham travel to St James’s Park on Saturday afternoon. New boss Claudio Ranieri still needs to tighten a leaky defence, while the days of Newcastle being Premier League entertainers are long gone, though they are picking up points. The outcome of this one is fairly open but I don’t see much in the way of goalmouth action.
Just where Newcastle would be without Rafa Benitez at the helm doesn’t bear thinking about for Magpies fans. The Spaniard is squeezing every last drop out of a limited group which, in all fairness, wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship.
The 10 game winless start now seems a distant memory with the hosts having shown signs of steady improvement month-on-month. Last weekend’s win at Huddersfield, their fourth in seven games, sees the Toon Army sit relatively safe in 14th. If they’re to continue their upward trajectory though, maximum points need to be taken from games such as.
Easier said than done though, Newcastle’s home record is the second worse in the division. I think this has a lot to with the way they're set up though, being a well drilled unit defensively, typical of Benitez of course. Clearly, their style is more suited to playing away from St James’s - their points tally of 10 on the road proves as much.
At home, where the onus is often on them to take the game to the opponent, Newcastle simply don’t have the tools up top to cause a continual threat, as their average goal return of less than a goal game (0.78) suggests. They’ll be relying on the defensive spine of Clark, Diame and Dubravka once again to keep them in with a chance of claiming a significant win.
Fulham are far from down but with almost half the season played, The Cottagers need to start picking up some points if their return to the Premier League is to last longer than just a single season.
The arrival of Claudio Ranieri brought Fulham instant reward initially. However, his new side have been unable to build on the win against Southampton, losing three of the following four. Perhaps more notably though, he’s been unable to address Fulham’s achilles heel of conceding soft goals.
You do sense that if he can fix the backline, Fulham have a fair chance of climbing off the foot of the table. I say this because they have a decent squad on paper with some dangerous players in attack, most notably Mitrovic and Schurrle who have already proved they can score goals in the Premier League.
With this set to be Ranieri’s sixth game in charge, he’s had a few weeks to work with his new group and improve the leakiest backline in the division. If the Premier League winner can strike upon the same balance between defence and attack he found in his famous Leicester title winning side, then Fulham will start to climb the table.
While I don’t expect his new side to come anywhere close to achieving what Leicester did, I’m expecting Ranieri’s coaching ability to start paying off and an improvement in defence to be seen on Saturday.
I see this being a case of first goal wins. Neither side have hit the heights in front of goal so far and as mentioned, I can see Fulham becoming more resolute in the coming weeks, beginning at the weekend.