Swansea City-Newcastle United Preview
Swansea City have reached the 40-point plateau managers associate with Premier League safety, and Newcastle United are near having to bank on this season's cutoff being a bit lower.
If the Magpies fail to earn points against the Swans on Saturday at St James' Park, 40 will be their absolute maximum and they'll be a step closer to joining Aston Villa as relegation certainties.
The Swans (10-10-13) haven't officially secured safety just yet, though Saturday's 1-0 win over title-holders Chelsea sparked the celebration. It was their first Premier League win over the Blues and lifted them in 13th place on 40 points for their highest spot in the table since being in 12th through 10 matches.
Gylfi Sigurdsson's 25th-minute goal was all Swansea needed as they limited Chelsea to two shots on target. The Iceland international has scored in four of his last five matches and his nine since the calendar flipped to 2016 trail only the 11 by Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero as he looks to enter the European Championship in fine form.
His 25 career goals are tied with Wilfred Bony for the club's top-flight record, and he's three back of matching compatriot Eidur Gudjohnsen for the Premier League single-season high of 14 by an Icelandic player.
"To get to the 40-point mark is great," Sigurdsson told the club's official website. "... It is a fantastic feeling to reach (25 goals) and for a midfielder to be up there is very nice. I'm going to try and beat Eidur's record of 14 in one season but I am running out of games. I need three more before the end of the season, so that is my target."
Discussing individual milestones would have been discourteous after the club ended February with consecutive losses on a four-match winless streak that pushed them within three points of the drop, but they've since gone 4-1-1 with victories over London's two biggest clubs.
Another win coupled with a Sunderland loss at Norwich City will clinch a sixth straight season in the top flight, but manager Francesco Guidolin said he expects this week's challenge from a desperate team to be tougher than a big club experimenting with youth last week.
Nevertheless, Swansea are four points back of the top half and two removed from their Premier League-worst 42 from 2013-14.
"I think 40 points could be enough for us, but we want to beat 42 points - that's our next target," Guidolin said. "... We want to look up the table and we now have another five finals to play - starting on Saturday. It will be difficult for us to finish in the top half but the most important thing is to think match by match and we are only focused on Saturday's game."
It could be the last under the club's present ownership structure with the sale of a controlling stake to American businessmen Jason Levien and Steven Kaplan expected to be finalised next week, according to reports. Optimistically, supporters might look at the transition as the Welsh club benefiting from future investment.
"We believe we have a proposal which will help Swansea City progress both on and off the field," Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins said in the statement.
But pessimists might point toward the embattled ownership transition of their next opponents as a cautionary tale. Newcastle (6-7-19), who supporters might now say was infiltrated by English billionaire Mike Ashley in 2007, are 19th in the table on 25 points and six back of 17th-place Norwich City with a match in hand and North East neighbours Sunderland sandwiched between on 27.
Relegation, once only a bad dream for an occasionally Champions League-calibre club, is again a very real threat after going down for the only time in the Premier League era following the 2008-09 campaign. Manager Rafa Benitez knows another loss will situate them with one foot in the Championship heading into their final five matches.
What could save them, however, is a timely string of home fixtures. Four of the Magpies' last six come at St James' Park, and one of their road matches is at last-place Villa. Their away form has been disastrous, but they've taken seven points from their last four at home.
"We have four games at home and hopefully the fans can make the difference," Benitez told the club's official website. "It's not time for complaining or looking for who is responsible. Now is the time to stick together, try to be ready for the next challenge against Swansea, and see what happens.
"I still have the belief that the games at home, if we can win the first one, will be really important for us. But we have to start winning in the next one."
Newcastle weren't even close in the last, falling 3-1 at Southampton last Saturday with a deficit by the fourth minute an a three-goal hole by the 55th. Conceding 17 times and earning one point over a seven-match winless span might sound terrible, but it gets worse.
The reverse fixture was a 2-0 Swansea win Aug. 15 on goals from Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew. It was Swansea's sixth win on a seven-match unbeaten span against the Magpies, and they've never lost a Premier League match at St James' Park - posting three wins on the bounce following a 2011-12 draw.