The business of writing match previews is a repetitive one. Who starts, who misses out, what happened last time and what tactical approach might lead us toward a path of destruction and misery. Hardly original stuff.
But while fans may rejoice at the absence of the opposition’s star striker, or brace themselves when their three natural centre halves are set to miss out through injury, one such pre-game quandary causes more tossing and turning than others: is this a good time to play them?
There is no denying that form influences matches. Confident players are willing to take risks, confident teams are more likely to recover from setbacks, match fitness and sharpness are hugely important. So good form is almost always a good thing.
But lets take Newcastle, in terrible form by their standards. A squad of talented internationals that hyper-achieved last season but have struggled with injuries and morale this time around. A squad that thought they had three points in the bag at the rowdy cauldron that is Stoke’s Britannia Stadium before two smash-and-grab strikes in the last ten minutes spoiled the party and sent them home sad once again.
They are like a wounded animal, out for revenge. They may be in poor form, but will be fired up, out to reverse the curse in front of their rabid home supporters. Who, by the way, will be thinking, “Well, we got robbed at Stoke, but that was always a tricky fixture. Wigan at home next: that should get the good times rolling again!”
And so, is this a good time to play Newcastle?
The Optimist: Yes. They’ll be fired up and throw everything at us in the first 20 minutes. But if we can keep them at bay, the crowd will get on their backs, they’ll start to rush things, and errors will creep into their play. They’ll be under pressure to win convincingly and leave space at the back for our speedy strikers to exploit.
The Pessimist: No. They’ve got a squad full of talented players, returning from injury, who feel they were robbed at Stoke. The focus will be on eliminating the defensive lapses that cost them those points at the Brittania. Pappis Cisse scored on his return to the squad. They have 5-6 players with something to prove, and any of them could win the game for them. We’ve had it.
Case closed, clearly.
What side of the fence do you fall on? Leave us a comment here or on Facebook.