Watford host Newcastle United at Vicarage Road on Saturday in a Premier League clash between two sides who have enjoyed solid seasons, each pushing up into mid-table with little fear of relegation ever being a true concern of late.
Of the two sides, it is Watford who will still be watching over their shoulders slightly, as the Hornets sit just six points clear of the bottom three. With only two matches left to play this season, it is likely that Watford have done enough to secure their safety, though victory over Newcastle on Saturday would help to virtually guarantee it.
Newcastle, meanwhile, have enjoyed great success upon their return to the top flight under Rafa Benitez this season. Currently residing in 10th in the table, the Magpies look well on course to secure a top-half finish.
That would be some achievement following their promotion from the Championship and having the uncertainty of the Mike Ashley situation hanging over them all season. Benitez has done a fine job at St. James’ Park, and a top-half finish would be a great platform to build on next season.
Watford head into Saturday’s game suffering a poor run of form. The home side have not won a league game since a 1-0 victory over West Brom at the beginning of March. Their two months without victory began with a 3-0 defeat away to Arsenal, followed by a 5-0 thrashing at Liverpool.
Those two away hammerings have proved difficult to recover from for Javi Gracia’s side. Home draws with Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, topped off with defeats to Burnley, Huddersfield and Monday night’s 2-0 loss to Tottenham at Wembley have followed.
The sacking of Marco Silva in January may be pointed to as a destabilising factor for the club but finding form at this late stage in the season and ensuring Watford’s Premier League status is safe for another campaign will be vital for the Hornets.
Newcastle have fared generally better in recent times, although two consecutive defeats in their previous league outings to Everton and West Brom will make the Magpies keen to return to winning ways this weekend.
The back-to-back 2-1 successes against Leicester and Arsenal prior to those defeats were a real sign of how far Newcastle have come this season, and of the genuine quality that Benitez has instilled in his side this term. The away side will be looking to regain that kind of form this weekend in their bid to secure a top-half finish.
Watford can take encouragement from having ran out comfortable winners when the two sides last met at St. James’ Park in November. Under Marco Silva, the Hornets stormed the home side with a 3-0 success, with a DeAndre Yedlin own goal coming between strikes from Will Hughes and Andre Gray.
Newcastle dominated possession, enjoying 52% of the ball and equalling Watford’s recording of 12 shots on that occasion. Despite being the away side this time out, Newcastle are again likely to see plenty of the ball at Vicarage Road and must produce greater quality in their final product to claim a result from this match.
Both sides possess influential wingers which provide an important source of attacking threat for their team, and the wide areas could therefore prove key to the battle on Saturday, particularly in terms of which side’s wide men can have the greatest impact on the game in offensive terms.
For Watford, Richarlison in particular has been a key outlet for his side in his debut season in the Premier League. The Brazilian has contributed five goals and four assists for the Hornets, proving a fast, tricky and direct threat to the opposition’s defence, as well as a keen team player with the ability to make tackles and create chances for his teammates.
Richarlison typically lines up on the left flank for Watford, with Kiko Femenia providing the point of attack from the Hornets’ right hand side.
For Newcastle, Kenedy arrived at St. James’ Park on loan from Chelsea in January and has enjoyed real success on the Magpies’ left wing since. The Brazilian, who also had a short loan spell with Watford in 2016, will return to Vicarage Road hoping to continue his recent fine form.
Kenedy has managed two goals and two assists in his 11 appearances for Newcastle so far. His brace against Southampton in March capped the winger’s finest performance since his mid-season arrival at St. James’ Park, and a similar performance against Watford this weekend could make the Brazilian a key figure on Saturday.
Matt Ritchie provides Newcastle’s attacking outlet from the right, and his recent winner at home to Arsenal was proof of his ability to make telling contributions in big matches. The influence of the wingers of both sides is certainly a battle to keep an eye on during Saturday’s showdown.
Javi Gracia remains without injured defensive pair Tommie Hoban and Younes Kaboul for this game. Nathan Chalobah continues his recovery from knee surgery, whilst fellow midfielder Tom Cleverley is still nursing a hamstring injury.
Newcastle, meanwhile, are contending with a three-man injury list. Rafa Benitez will be without defender Jesus Gamez, winger Christian Atsu and midfielder Mikel Merino for the trip to Vicarage Road.
Islam Slimani will miss Newcastle United’s next three matches after he was charged with violent conduct.— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) May 3, 2018
He accepted the charge but argued the suspension was excessive. This was rejected by an Independent Regulatory Commission.
👉🏽 https://t.co/JGFJqfdzXb #NUFC pic.twitter.com/Fcz2Pxm5tj
Striker Islam Slimani also misses out, having received a three-match ban for violent conduct during last Saturday's defeat to West Brom.
While Watford’s need for victory in this match is greater - with the Hornets’ Premier League safety still not mathematically assured yet - Newcastle arrive in Hertfordshire as the side in better form and with higher confidence. Rafa Benitez’s side will enjoy being able to play with freedom and with the incentive of securing an impressive top-half finish this season.
The Magpies will be keen to bounce back from two defeats in their previous league outings, and the current form of attackers Ayoze Perez, Kenedy and Matt Ritchie should mean Newcastle have enough quality to secure the three points on Saturday.
Score prediction: Watford 0-3 Newcastle
Score prediction: Watford 0-3 Newcastle