Newcastle United will look to climb out of the relegation zone when they welcome Claudio Ranieri’s Watford to St James’ Park on Saturday afternoon.

Relegation would be a catastrophic outcome for Newcastle this season given their new ownership, and it would not be surprising to see a few more reinforcements walk through the door by the end of the month as the Magpies look to avoid the drop in the second half of the campaign.

Newcastle have snapped up England full-back Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid and Chris Wood from relegation rivals Burnley so far this month, but they will need to turn their attention to matters on the pitch. For many, the focus is narrowing in on the crucial relegation six-pointer against Watford this Saturday.

Both Newcastle and Watford have been in dire form this season and are separated by just two points at 19th and 17th respectively, although the Hornets have a game in hand on the Magpies. Newcastle are desperate for three points and could crawl out of the bottom three with a victory here.

The Magpies suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to League One outfit Cambridge in the FA Cup third-round tie. They will look to make amends with a positive result this weekend as it could kickstart their campaign and help them to gather some vital momentum.

As for Watford, their honeymoon period under new boss Claudio Ranieri seems to be over. Watford have not won a single game since their excellent 4-1 triumph at home against Manchester United back in November 2021, losing each of their seven games across all competitions since.

Watford have also bolstered their squad by bringing in reinforcements this month. Hassane Kamara, Edo Kayembe and Maduka Okoye have all arrived and will look to make a significant impact over the next run of games, including vital six-pointers against Newcastle, Burnley and Norwich as the Hornets seek breathing space between themselves and the drop zone.

The reverse fixture at Vicarage Road ended in a 1-1 draw. Newcastle wasted a slew of goalscoring opportunities on the day and then let Watford get back into the game. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides on Saturday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Newcastle United

Wood is eligible for selection on Saturday and is set to lead the Newcastle attack, with Callum Wilson and Dwight Gayle among those sidelined for the Magpies. Federico Fernandez and Isaac Hayden are also injured, while Javier Manquillo is suspended for the Watford clash.

Karl Darlow and Ciaran Clark should have recovered from COVID-19 in time to be in contention for the weekend, while defenders Jamal Lewis and Paul Dummett are both edging closer to a return and have trained during the week. Martin Dubravka will operate in between the sticks for the Magpies, with Newcastle lining up in a 4-5-1 formation in front of him.

Fabian Schar will partner up with Jamaal Lascelles at the heart of the Newcastle backline as they look to keep only their second clean sheet of the season, with Kieran Trippier and Matt Ritchie being the two full-backs looking to put in quality crosses to feed new signing Chris Wood up top.

Joelinton, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Willock will form a potentially dynamic central midfield trio. Shelvey will anchor the midfield with his wide range of passing ability, Joelinton will look to link up the midfield and attack, while Willock will provide the defensive support in addition to his late runs into the box. Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser will try to put their pace to good use down the left and right flank respectively.

Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Dubravka; Trippier, Schar, Lascelles, Ritchie; Fraser, Willock, Shelvey, Joelinton, Saint-Maximin; Wood

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Watford

Unlike his counterpart in the Newcastle dugout, Hornets’ boss Claudio Ranieri will be missing a whole host of key players through various issues ahead of the trip to St James’ Park. Nicolas N’Koulou, Peter Etebo and Kwadwo Baah will miss the contest through their respective injuries.

Watford will also be without the services of William Troost-Ekong (Nigeria), Imran Louza (Morocco) and Adam Masina (Morocco) due to their involvement in the Africa Cup of Nations. Star winger Ismaila Sarr had also departed for central Africa this month, although it seems as though he may not feature for Senegal after picking up a knee injury.

In some positive news, Watford have confirmed Christian Kabasele, Ben Foster, Emmanuel Dennis, and Kiko Femenia have all returned to full training and will be available, while new winter arrivals Hassane Kamara, Edo Kayembe and Samir are all in line for debuts.

Ranieri could opt for a 4-1-4-1 formation, with compactness and reducing spaces the key in this clash. Daniel Bachmann will deputise in goal, with Craig Cathcart and Francisco Sierralta forming the central defensive partnership in front of him.

Danny Rose has been frozen out under Claudio Ranieri, so new acquisition Hassane Kamara appears likely to make his debut at left-back while Femenia comes in on the other flank. Juraj Kucka will be the holding pivot for the Hornets with the major task of screening the backline and stopping the opposition’s midfield runners.

Up ahead in midfield, Dennis, Moussa Sissoko, Ozan Tufan and Ken Sema will form a quartet. Sissoko and Tufan will provide defensive cover and midfield legs, while Sema and Dennis will be relied upon to provide the creative impetus. Finally, Joshua King will spearhead the Watford attack and look to add to his tally of 5 Premier League goals.

Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Bachmann; Femenia, Sierralta, Cathcart, Kamara; Kucka; Dennis, Tufan, Sissoko, Sema; King

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Key Stats

  • Newcastle United have won just one game against Watford in the past 10 Premier League meetings between the two sides (D4 L5).
  • Watford have won two of their last four away league games against Newcastle.
  • Newcastle United have won just one of their last 19 Premier League games so far this season. Only one of the last 13 teams to have one win or fewer at the halfway stage of an English top-flight campaign survived relegation, with West Brom doing so in 2004/05.
  • Newcastle United have lost all of their first home league matches in the last three calendar years.
  • Watford have failed to preserve a clean sheet in any of their last 28 Premier League games, while their opponents have kept only one clean sheet all season.

Player to Watch

Emmanuel Dennis

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Although Watford are missing a lot of key players through injuries and the Africa Cup of Nations, they will be boosted by the return of their star forward, Emmanuel Dennis. With Ismaila Sarr out injured, the onus is very much on the former Koln striker to provide a spark of creativity and produce the goods in the final third for an uninspiring Claudio Ranieri side.

Dennis is the Hornets’ leading scorer with eight goals in 17 games. With five assists, he has contributed to 59 per cent of Watford’s total Premier League goals this season, highlighting just how important he is to the club’s Premier League survival bid. He will again be vying to make major contributions in this crucial tie at the bottom half of the table.

Prediction

Newcastle United 1-0 Watford

Neither team has been in particularly good form and are both struggling at the wrong end of the table. Watford have looked dismal in recent weeks and are stuck in a rut at the worst possible time, with three huge games against Newcastle, Burnley and Norwich coming up before the end of the month. Watford are already missing a number of players due to injury ahead of this match, but the departures of additional first-team regulars to AFCON have made matters worse for Ranieri.

Meanwhile, the Magpies will have the home advantage and will be boosted by their new additions. Although the newer players may take time to blend in, this Newcastle side has enough in their arsenal to beat a shaky Watford. The Hard Tackle predicts a close contest with the hosts coming away with a narrow 1-0 win at St James Park this Saturday afternoon.

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