Newcastle United v Norwich City
Is this a must-win game for the Magpies and Canaries, or a must-not-lose? It’s an important definition to make ahead of this crunch relegation scrap at St James’ Park with both sides mired in the bottom three.
For the visitors a draw would very likely be regarded as a favourable outcome; a continuation of the progress being made under new boss Dean Smith. Factoring in his predecessor’s farewell victory at the start of November, Norwich are presently unbeaten in three and even that slender run of results seemed hopelessly beyond them earlier in the campaign. Initial signs since Smith took the reins have been wholly positive with Southampton and Wolves restricted to a combined seven shots on target in recent weeks and the East Anglican side head to the North-East buoyed by three goalless stalemates from their last seven games. They will look to add to that on Tuesday evening while no doubt hoping that an opportunity might present itself along the way. Should it not then a draw will be fine; acceptable and accepted.
Newcastle’s motivation however is markedly different and significantly more pronounced. This is a critical chance to secure three precious points and the heightened urgency is not just because they are at serious risk of being marooned at the foot of the Premier League. Still winless after 13 games, the uber-rich, performance-impoverished Magpies are now entering record-breaking territory, the kind that leaves an indelible stain on every player’s C.V. Another five matches without a victory and this will be the worst start by any club to a Premier League season. It’s pertinent to highlight at this point that their Christmas schedule is Manchester City and United at home sandwiched between two testing trips to Merseyside.
Furthermore, coming out on top in this tight, tense tussle will reignite some belief into the side and their loyal following faithful that survival might just be possible but sadly, for games of this magnitude, it is necessary to go with the form and that currently lies with Norwich.
It should not be overlooked that for all their disappointing returns this term, the visitors have fared relatively well against their fellow strugglers and for that reason, the 29/10 available on an away win is tempting.
🎙 Eddie Howe speaks to the media ahead of tomorrow's visit of Norwich City.
"We have the two suspensions [Lascelles and Ritchie] and they're going to be big misses for us with the experience they have but I don't think there are any fresh injuries from Saturday." pic.twitter.com/cvIgw5SslY
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) November 29, 2021
Tottenham v Brentford
The cancellation of Tottenham’s trip to Burnley due to bad weather has meant their mortifying Europa Conference League loss to NS Mura – along with Antonio Conte’s strong response to it – has lingered for a week, polluting the training ground, settling into the player’s psyche. It was the kind of career-low that demanded a swift and vigorous reaction only they have been denied that.
Even so, we can expect a much better level of performance this Thursday than last, from personnel who were mostly free from blame for the calamity, rested as they were in favour of a second-string who Conte will now forever distrust. Lloris, Reguilon, Hojbjerg, Son, Dier, and Lucas Moura will all feature alongside Harry Kane who ironically had one of his best games this season in Slovenia.
These regulars will seek to atone for that regrettable defeat but more so look to build on their encouraging two league outings since the demanding Italian arrived in North London. A fractious draw at Everton was successfully navigated before a spirited second-half showing against Leeds saw them complete only their third win since August. In that latter encounter, Spurs executed 181 collective sprints, a season-high.
Such intensity will be needed with the Bees buzzing across town, boasting the fourth-best stats for team distance covered this season, a table incidentally that Spurs propped up until recently. In drawing away at Newcastle and beating Everton at home, Brentford have emerged from a worrying pattern of results that threatened to spiral them down the table and though they are weakened by injuries – most notably to Ajer, Norgaard and Canos with the latter 50/50 for this one – and though they have conceded as many as they have scored this season, Thomas Frank’s side still head to Spurs in fine fettle.
Largely this is down to the immensely important Ivan Toney rediscovering his scoring boots after experiencing an uncharacteristic mini drought. The prolific 25-year-old fired 39% of Brentford’s goals last season, a haul that got them promoted while demonstrating his priceless value to an attack-minded outfit. After six blanks he has now scored two in two.
By all means, back Spurs to prevail at a reasonable 3/5 but it’s worth recognizing that Brentford have only failed to find the target three times in 2021/22. Both teams to score is 10/11 and a useful addition to any bet builder.
Antonio Conte: “After three weeks I am starting to understand the situation. It is not simple. At this moment the level at Tottenham is not so high.” #THFC
— Jonathan Veal (@jonathandveal83) November 25, 2021
Everton v Liverpool
Form books are supposed to be thrown out of the window for derby games but on this occasion, it should be kept firmly at hand.
Everton are entrenched in their worst run since early 2016 and among their compendium of poor results going right back to September we find a plethora of reasons to suggest this is not a temporary malaise. Against Watford, at Goodison, they were ruthlessly dismantled. For much of their loss at Wolves they were unforgivably passive with a midfield that was nowhere to be seen. On Sunday the Toffees came so unstuck at Brentford they were booed off angrily by the away fans who wanted significantly more, even if that more was simply better application.
Granted, injuries have played a part – though Abdoulaye Doucoure is back and has a big role to play on Wednesday evening – and missing Dominic Calvert-Lewin has starkly revealed the absence of quality in the queue behind him. Yet injuries excuse them only to an extent. Everton, simplistically put, have been dire of late.
If recent outings offer no encouragement nor does their track record in this fixture because they last beat their local rivals at Goodison in 2010, and to put that length of time in proper context, David Moyes was the victorious boss that day while Rafa Benitez had only recently left Liverpool. Ever since, the Reds have wandered across Stanley Park and returned with the points and should they do so again, we can only imagine the anger levels of the Gwladys Street faithful.
Alas, it very much looks like history will repeat itself. Jurgen Klopp’s creation have been mainly magnificent this season, with a strike force that is now getting the lofty praise they deserve due to the records they are smashing. The title contenders, who are rated as third-favourites in the title race by bookies, have scored 39 times in their opening 13 games, a figure that tops any of their previous 105 top-flight campaigns. In their last 17 fixtures they have scored two or more goals and that hasn’t been achieved by an English side since Sunderland did it in 1927. Chief among their finishers of course is top scorer Mo Salah, who has remarkably been directly involved in 25 goals in 2021/22, twice the number of any other Premier League player.
A fragile side such as Everton, who have kept just one clean sheet in their last seven, will be unable to contain Liverpool’s fusillade which is why 11/8 for over three goals across the 90 minutes is great value.
1️⃣7️⃣ goals in 1️⃣7️⃣ games
Mo Salah is unstoppable 👑 pic.twitter.com/V63VW1OmOS
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 24, 2021
Manchester United v Arsenal
The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as Manchester United’s interim manager provides an intriguing narrative to their hosting of Arsenal though if rumours are to be believed, the German coach was involved in the decision-making at Stamford Bridge that saw a defensively set up Reds frustrate Chelsea throughout.
Against Thomas Tuchel’s imperious side, United only managed two shots on target but that’s of secondary importance to their overall shape and work rate, both of which were a marked improvement to recent weeks, while the dropping of Ronaldo was ultimately justified when Jadon Sancho – principally his replacement – ran through to slot home early in the second half.
Indeed, so well-organised were a side that had previously been in disarray – conceding more attempts on their goal than any other side in November and committing the fewest tackles across 2021/22 – that it is difficult to properly gauge them as they prepare for this defining fixture. To what extent was their pride-restoring draw in the capital a result of throwing a blanket of players across passing lanes and channels, strategizing as an underdog? Will Ronaldo return and if so, will the Portuguese megastar make even a token effort to press, as Rangnick infamously demands? Will the reinstalment of Harry Maguire – even an out-of-sorts Maguire – mean the United back-line is trusted more by the management, who ensured they had maximum protection at the weekend?
The visit of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal will provide all the answers only they too pose a series of unknowns. Against Newcastle, the Gunners created an abundance of chances, particularly in the first period, but struggled to convert and were largely wasteful. That’s a concern for a team who have scored only 1.1 goals per game this season and it’s a problem exacerbated by the absence of Bukayo Saka, their most productive attacking talent.
Broadening the picture, we also await to see which Arsenal turns up to the Theatre of Dreams. Though their form has dramatically turned around in recent months, accruing 23 points from a possible 30 since the end of August, this is still a team that confuses against the traditional ‘top six’, their implosion at Anfield two weeks ago being a case in point.
With 1-1 a result that would satisfy both parties, we’re drawn to the 13/2 while United’s propensity to score late goals should be factored in always.
Welcome to Manchester United, Ralf Rangnick 🔴🇩🇪#MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 29, 2021