Newcastle United still retain hope of the great escape, but will need something special against Manchester City at St James’ Park on Tuesday.
The Magpies have been in or around the relegation zone all season, with six defeats in seven doing little to help their cause, but new manager Rafa Benitez finally got his first win with the club on Saturday when they thumped Swansea City 3-0.
Despite those three valuable points, Newcastle remain second-last to Aston Villa in the Premier League standings, with neighbours Sunderland completing the bottom three. The Black Cats are two points above Newcastle and Norwich City one point further, meaning that the Magpies still have a chance of avoiding the drop.
Benitez knows that his players probably won’t fancy their chances of picking up anything against the Citizens after they were thrashed 6-1 on their trip to the Etihad Stadium earlier in the campaign, but the Spaniard was bullish when asked what he thought of their chances ahead of the game.
RB: "If we believe like we did against Swansea then we can beat anyone. We have nothing to lost at the moment & we have confidence." #NUFC
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) April 18, 2016
“If we believe like we did against Swansea then we can beat anyone,” said the former Real Madrid, Liverpool and Chelsea manager.
“We have nothing to lost at the moment and we have confidence. We all have to stick together, work hard and try to get three points in this game.”
Manchester City currently occupy third place in the standings, which brings with it the luxury of automatic Champions League qualification.
City have now won their last three in a row since a derby defeat to Manchester United, including a blistering 3-0 win over a lacklustre Chelsea side at the weekend, in which Sergio Aguero bagged a hat-trick, and seem to be sailing on the wind of their Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain, but will also be determined to assure their participation in that tournament again next year.
City have two players to keep your eyes on during the match, with Belgian winger Kevin De Bruyne in scintillating form after recently returning from injury, while Argentine striker Sergio Aguero has also been prolific of late, with his hat-trick against the Blues showing that he knows exactly where the net is.
“I’m happy for Kun that he is scoring, he’s playing often, he’s not had injuries in the second half of season,” said City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
“Newcastle are very dangerous, they have good players, St James’ Park is difficult and they need all the points to not get relegated. We must continue the way we played on Saturday, solid, keeping a clean sheet and scoring goals.”
For Newcastle, the home support will be pinning much of their hope on Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who can be deadly when at his best, while Georginio Wijnaldum also has the propensity to turn a match in their favour.
MP: Sterling is coming back from an important injury we’ll see if he can play some minutes tomorrow. It depends on the way he returns. #mcfc
— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) April 18, 2016
In team news, Pellegrini confirmed that David Silva (ankle) and Samir Nasri (muscular injury) both miss out, along with full-backs Bacary Sagna (back injury), Gael Clichy (back injury).
Captain Vincent Kompany (calf muscle strain) looks set to return to feature in defence, but winger Raheem Sterling (groin/pelvis) is a slight doubt and will face a late fitness test.
For Newcastle, Benitez confirmed that their defence will still be missing Fabricio Coloccini (calf/shin) and Daryl Janmaat (groin strain). Kevin Mbabu (hip/thigh) is a big doubt, while third-choice goalkeeper Karl Darlow will continue between the sticks.