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Everton at Newcastle: The Opposition View

We chatted with Newcastle blogger Graeme Bell prior to Saturday’s clash

Everton FC v Newcastle United - Premier League
The two sides drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture in December
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Everton will hope to build on their positive last week when they visit Newcastle United on Saturday.

Rafa Benítez’s side, who drew 1-1 at Goodison Park in December, have spent the entire season in the bottom half of the table, but are now six points clear of the drop zone with two wins in their last three games.

The Toon Army have a dreadful record against the Toffees; they have won just one of the last 12 meetings between the sides and have not beaten Everton on the turf since December 2014.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke to Graeme Bell (@GraemeBell_NUFC), Newcastle season-ticket holder and writer for SB Nation’s Toon Army blog, Coming Home Newcastle:

RBM: Firstly, though they have won their last four home league games, the mood at St. James’ Park can often be toxic towards owner Mike Ashley.

In that sense, could this be an easier game for Everton than if it were at Goodison, where Newcastle fought hard for a deserved point earlier in the season?

Graeme: I don’t think so. The recent home games have seen a change in the mood; more chants about the players and less focus on Ashley. That doesn’t mean to say we want Ashley to stay, it’s a case that everyone saw the situation we were in and needed to get behind the team like we did last year.

When the players and the fans are one, it makes such a difference.

RBM: Has the tension between fans and board at Newcastle simmered at all after the January signing of midfielder Miguel Almirón broke the club’s transfer record?

Graeme: Not at all; we’re glad that Almirón finally arrived, however, this doesn’t change anything. Benítez has set out his vision of the club to the board, it is up to them to deliver. If they do not do all they can to keep Benítez, there will be uproar.

One signing doesn’t change anything; it’s a start, but Newcastle must keep Benítez and then back him in the summer.

Newcastle United v Burnley FC - Premier League
Almirón joined Newcastle from Atlanta for £21 million in January
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

RBM: The relationship between the board and Benítez also seems extremely fractious. Do you expect him to walk away if the club is not sold by the summer?

Graeme: Benítez just wants the board to have the same ambition as him. If they show that and the club isn’t sold, then he’ll stay.

It sounds simple, but unfortunately Newcastle have one of the least intelligent owners in the history of football, so nothing is easy.

RBM: With nine games to go, Newcastle sit six points clear of the relegation zone. How confident are you that they will survive?

Graeme: Very. There are three worse teams than us, we’ve been playing well recently and Almirón has given the team more of an attacking threat.

RBM: What differences have Almirón and youngster Sean Longstaff, a regular since the turn of the year but who will miss Saturday’s game through injury, made to Newcastle’s midfield?

Graeme: Almirón has adapted very quickly to the Premier League. He has a lot of pace, which is what Newcastle were crying out for. It’s only a matter of time before he finds the back of the net.

Sean Longstaff has been a revelation; calm and composed on the ball, his passing range is fantastic. He can also chip in with goals from midfield like he did when on loan at Blackpool. His first Premier League goal against Burnley made St. James’ Park erupt.

He shows a real maturity for such a young player. He’ll be gutted to be out for the rest of the season but I have no doubt he’ll come back stronger.

Newcastle United v Burnley FC - Premier League
Longstaff, 21, began his career at Newcastle, and scored his first goal in last week’s 2-0 home win over Burnley
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

RBM: How do you expect Newcastle to set up on Saturday?

Graeme: Newcastle are likely to set up the same as their last home game against Burnley. With Longstaff out for the rest of the season, Ki Sung-yueng, Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame will all be fighting for that midfield spot.

Benítez has favoured Javi Manquillo over DeAndre Yedlin in the last two outings, however I can see the USA international coming back to the starting line-up for this one.

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Graeme: Everton have been very vulnerable at set pieces this season, a trait of a Marco Silva side. Don’t be surprised if Jamaal Lascelles grabs a goal from a corner.

The front three of Almirón, Salomón Rondón and Ayoze Pérez for Newcastle will be a real threat; they have a great understanding already.

If Shelvey plays, it will be interesting to see if he can spot Almirón’s runs. There’s a lot of quality in this Newcastle side; it won’t be an easy game for Everton.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Graeme: I think Newcastle will win this one. They had an off day against West Ham United [2-0 defeat] last time out, however confidence is still high on Tyneside and I think Almirón will get his first goal for the club in this game.

I’m going for a 2-1 Newcastle win.

Our thanks to Graeme for his time.