• Nathan Smith

FULHAM FIND FORM: NEWCASTLE UNITED ARE IN A RELEGATION BATTLE - BUT WHO WILL SURVIVE?


After what seemed like a tide-changing victory against Southampton, Newcastle United fell to a disappointing 2-0 defeat against Chelsea.


While this was an expected loss, with the Blues looking much better under Thomas Tuchel, the manner of the defeat followed a similar frustrating pattern for Newcastle.


A lack of urgency and a generally flat performance, Steve Bruce has at times looked like he’s struggled to get his team going and this was an example of that.


Currently in 17th, sitting seven points above an ever-improving Fulham side who have a game in hand on Newcastle, are the Magpies in a relegation battle?


Depleted Defence


The Chelsea game marked the return of Jamal Lascelles, who had been out since the Everton game, but Fabian Schar and Javier Manquillo remained out due to a knee and ankle injury, respectively.


Lascelles has had a topsy-turvy season when it comes to injuries and Bruce has certainly missed his captain in some big moments this season.


For example, Newcastle only won one of the seven games Lascelles missed due to his last injury in late December, but you also have to factor in the COVID problems the Magpies faced at the start of the month.


Fabian Schar being out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury is a big blow and having made more interceptions than any other Newcastle player, they miss their most active defender.


Jamal Lewis is the only out and out left back at the club, with Paul Dummett the only viable replacement and as Lewis has struggled to adapt to life at St James Park, it seems Mike Ashley and Co missed a trick in the January window by not bringing in a new left back.


Bruce tends to set up his side to defend well and try to hit teams on the counter, but Newcastle have struggled to keep the goals out this season, and these injuries and lack of new recruits are not helping their cause.


No Wilson


Callum Wilson has had a fantastic season so far, proving to everyone why he deserved to stay in the Premier League after his long spell at Bournemouth.


Having notched ten goals and five assists, Wilson has played a part in 15 of Newcastle’s 25 goals this season.


This goes to show how important he is to Bruce’s side and with no real replacement, the Magpies could be in big trouble without him.


Joelinton has never looked like being a Premier League standard striker, and while he has a big opportunity to prove everyone wrong, it is hard to see the Brazilian suddenly coming good.


Andy Carroll has a long history with injuries and has not hit the form that helped him burst onto the scene originally with Newcastle twelve years ago.


Dwight Gayle is the other option, but he is another striker who just doesn’t seem to be Premier League standard but has a good goalscoring record in the Championship and if he can carry that over into the top-flight, then they will have their solution.


Newcastle are currently linked with free agent Daniel Sturridge, who possesses a lot of quality, but his injury record and time out of the game does not make that move the most appealing.


While Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron are both great players and more than good enough to help Bruce’s team in the absence of Wilson, a lack of top-quality firepower up front may come back to bite the Magpies during Wilson’s absence.


Fired-up Fulham


Despite sitting seven points behind Newcastle in the table, it is clear to see Fulham’s improvements as of late.


Scott Parker has done a great job at the Cottagers, and while they only have three wins to their name so far this season, you feel that if it were not for some costly individual mistakes and missed penalties, Fulham would be much closer to escaping the drop zone.


The lack of firepower that they have suffered from may have been addressed with the arrival of Josh Maja, who scored twice on his debut as Fulham saw off Everton by two goals to nil.


Fulham’s defence has also improved recently, having kept three clean sheets in their last five games, which is an encouraging sign.


Conclusion


There are some worrying signs around Newcastle’s performances at the moment.


Despite some great wins against both Southampton and Everton recently, the defeats tend to be uninspired performances that leaves fans worried about the motivation of the players.


Their biggest rivals Fulham seem to have that motivation and look like they are playing for Scott Parker and it is hard to see whether the Magpies are playing for their manager or not.


If Fulham beat Burnley on Wednesday, Parker’s side will move within four points of Bruce’s team with the same games played and if the Cottagers can achieve that, then Newcastle are certainly in a relegation battle.