Newcastle United-Norwich City Preview
The international break couldn't have come at a better time for Rafael Benitez's relegation-threatened Newcastle United side. The Magpies find themselves in desperate need of three points Saturday when the club travels to Carrow Road to face Norwich City.
Newcastle (6-7-17) enter Saturday's clash in 19th place with 25 points, three adrift of safety with eight matches remaining, so they have time to turn things around and maintain their Premier League status, but they'll have to put together at least one run of positive results - something the club has struggled to accomplish all season, especially away from home.
Benitez's side has captured just seven points on their travels, better than only last-place Aston Villa (6), while scoring a league-low seven goals outside St James' Park.
Following the club's 1-0 loss to league leaders Leicester City on March 14, Newcastle have been outscored 14-2 in losing seven on the bounce away from home.
To make matters worse, goalkeeper Rob Elliot will miss the next several months after suffering a torn ACL while on international duty with the Republic of Ireland. Elliot had taken over the starting role earlier this season after Tim Krul went down with a season-ending knee injury in October while representing the Netherlands.
"Sustaining the injury happened in a split second. The ball was played across the goal and I moved across to get in line," Elliot said. "I dived after the ball as I would do in any training session or any game, but I felt pain straight away. Watching it back, I grabbed my knee before I'd even landed.
"When I found out it was my cruciate ligament, that's when the tears came. There was a wave of emotion knowing I'd miss the rest of the season with Newcastle and the Euros with Ireland. But you have to let that come, get past it and then look to be positive."
With Elliot sidelined, the Magpies will likely lean on Karl Darlow in goal for the remainder of the season. He's made two starts for the Magpies, winning a League Cup match versus Northampton Town and losing at West Bromwich Albion in late December.
"Karl Darlow will now get that opportunity and I know you will show him the support that you've given me. He's a great guy, he gets what Newcastle is all about and he works hard every day to get an opportunity like this," Elliot added. "He deserves that roar from our fans like I had.
"I messaged him as soon as I knew about my injury because I wanted him to know and to be ready. I know how good a goalkeeper he is already and how good he is going to be. I wish Karl and the boys the best in carrying us forward and getting us out of the relegation fight. Alongside you, I'll be right behind them."
Norwich City (7-7-17) are in a marginally better spot than Newcastle, clinging to their Premier League lives in 17th place on 28 points, just two better than 18th-place Sunderland, but if Alex Neil's Canaries are to survive, they'll have to string some wins together over their final eight fixtures.
But the club could be turning around its fortunes at the right time as their 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion snapped a 10-match winless run in league play. Robbie Brady's 50th-minute strike was enough to give the Canaries the win.
With a win and a draw in their last two matches, the Canaries should be properly motivated to keep their brief run of positive form going - they haven't gone three straight matches without a defeat since September.
They'll have to be more effective in the final third if they hope to get a win and improve their chances of securing another Premier League season. Nearly 48 percent of Norwich's shots have come from outside the penalty area, where it is obviously very difficult to score, save for an almost perfect strike.
Newcastle ran rampant in a 6-2 win in October when the sides met at St James' Park. Georginio Wijnaldum scored four times in the match, while Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez also scored for Newcastle. Dieumerci Mbokani and Nathan Redmond netted for Norwich.