After a run of three consecutive wins, Newcastle United have moved from a pretty rooted spot in the bottom three to the relative safety of mid-table, and against all odds they start the weekend ahead of their opponents in the table. While nothing can be taken for granted where the Magpies are concerned, they’re definite favourites for this encounter against a West Ham side that seems to have gone off the boil after a brief good run and got shellacked last week by Manchester City.
The Hammers are, at least, staying on-brand by being hard to predict. Capable of beating Manchester United 3-1 but equally prone to dropping points at Huddersfield, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are underperforming for a side that didn’t hold back in the summer transfer window. It seems clear to anyone that they have by far the better squad of these two, but Newcastle’s players all seem to be on the same wavelength, while the visitors still seem to be a collection of talented but frustrating individuals.
Newcastle vs West Ham Prediction: Newcastle 1-0 West Ham
Rafael Benitez has over the years turned into something of a one-trick pony – but it is a pretty good trick. At each club where he has worked – and there have been a few – he instils defensive solidity and relies on one or two players further forward to provide any magic there may be. It’s been good enough to defeat Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley in consecutive games, and it seems reasonable to assume the same will apply against West Ham, who seem to lack the structure to break down a determined, settled back four unless Marko Arnautovic has a good day. Which he might, but you wouldn’t rely on it.
Our recommended tip: Kenedy To Score
As we already pointed out, Benitez’s approach is to leave it to one or two players to work the magic. At Newcastle, it’s definitely one player. Kenedy is on a plane so far above the rest of the Magpies’s side when it comes to skill that it’s hard to believe they’re playing the same sport at times. However, it works in a team setting because whatever the other players may lack in skill, they make up for in work rate. If they can create the space for the Brazilian, he’s got more than enough talent to make something of it. He’s 3/1 (4.00) to get on the scoresheet with Genting – a worthwhile punt.
Against the odds, when these sides met at the London Stadium last December, the game was a thriller. West Ham went ahead inside six minutes through Arnautovic, but the visitors roused themselves to hit back in the tenth minute through Henri Saivet. Mo Diame then gave them the lead on 53, but within minutes the Hammers had the chance to hit back when they won a penalty. Andre Ayew then missed it and by the hour mark, Newcastle had a 3-1 lead through Christian Atsu. On 69 minutes, Atsu’s international teammate Ayew did find the net to narrow the margin, but Benitez’s men held on for the win.
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Players to watch: Kenedy & Felipe Anderson
In the summer of 2017 while on tour with Chelsea, Kenedy made a couple of social media posts which were, not to put too fine a point on it, enormously racist. He has since been seen as broadly toxic by the club, and was made available for loan. He’s been given a frankly scarce-deserved second chance by Newcastle, and has certainly seemed to take it. Viewed as dispensable by Chelsea, he’s been an X Factor in the North East, delivering a level of flair the side otherwise lacks and – so far – no ill-advised videos.
Anderson is listed here because there’s no doubt around what he can do, but unsettling questions over whether he’s doing it enough. He’s shown only in flashes why West Ham paid over £40million for his signature. Against Manchester City, he was invisible, lucky not to be counted among the spectators. Last season he was a sensation in Serie A with Lazio. This season, he’s scarcely merited a place in the West Ham starting XI. He needs to show he was worth the large transfer fee – and soon.