Queens Park Rangers-Newcastle United Preview
Newcastle United are the in-form team in the Premier League.
Little more than a month ago, uttering such a sentence would have been pure folly, but the Magpies have won four straight to rocket up the table heading into their match Saturday versus Queens Park Rangers.
Alan Pardew's side (4-4-3) went winless in their opening seven games, resulting in a near-unbearable build-up of pressure on the Newcastle boss. But victories over Leicester, Tottenham, Liverpool and West Brom have resulted in a remarkable reversal of fortunes on Tyneside, where the Magpies are eighth with 16 points and trailing Manchester United on goal differential.
Now, it seems the biggest challenge at St James' Park is to keep Pardew's feet on the ground.
"Our strengths are we have incredible discipline in the team from our offensive players," Pardew said before comparing his squad to one of the best in Europe. "The current top model for that are Bayern Munich. That's their strength - that's what we have got - and pace. We are pushing as a team to physical levels that have never been used in the past. Fitter, stronger and faster - the Olympic spirit is what the Premier League is all about. They're right on the edge now.
"There'll be a bit more expectation on us this weekend than in recent weeks and therefore a different type of hurdle to overcome. We've done really well and the mood in the camp is buoyant."
Visitors Queens Park Rangers (2-2-7) have picked up four points in their last three games to hint at a revival, but manager Harry Redknapp is aware the hosts are coming into the game on a high.
"They've picked up," Redknapp said. "Newcastle is a great club, one of the great clubs in English football - the 50,000 fans every week with their black and white shirts on.
"I think he (Pardew) is doing a really good job and full credit to the chairman who has never looked like buckling under pressure. I'm pleased for Alan but hopefully we can go up there and get a good result this weekend."
Redknapp's side were left frustrated by a 2-2 draw with Manchester City last time out, with Sergio Aguero rescuing a point for the defending champions. That performance continued QPR's improvement after a calamitous start, with a tactical switch looking the likeliest cause of the turnaround.
Summer signing Rio Ferdinand and the back three system have both been jettisoned, with Redknapp returning to a traditionally English 4-4-2 and bringing in Bobby Zamora to lead the line and offer support to the previously lone striker Charlie Austin.
Rangers are expected to continue with the same approach against Newcastle, but do have concerns over the availability of combative midfielder Sandro. Redknapp is unlikely to risk breaking up his existing starting 11 by reintroducing Adel Taarabt after their recent spat over his fitness issues, while Alejandro Faurlin is out for the season with a knee ligament injury.
Newcastle are without Siem de Jong (thigh), Davide Santon (knee), Gabriel Overtan (hip), Rolando Aarons (hamstring), Cheick Tiote (calf) and captain Fabricio Coloccini (calf), but will soon welcome back Jonas Gutierrez to training after the Argentine international was given the all-clear from testicular cancer.