Newcastle United-Everton Preview
There is little at stake aside from taking a step closer to securing a top-half finish for Everton and Newcastle United as the teams clash Monday at Goodison Park.
Newcastle (11-8-14) are in the in-form team with four wins on the bounce, in 10th place on 41 points, and the latest victory was an impressive rally past Arsenal on Monday at St James' Park.
Ayoze Perez pulled the Magpies level just before the half-hour, and Matt Ritchie's goal on 68 minutes proved to be the difference in a 2-1 triumph as Newcastle crossed the 40-point threshold that all but assures another season in the top flight and further validated Benitez's coaching nous.
Little has changed in terms of personnel from the side he successfully navigated to the Championship title last season to make sure their relegation would be a one-and-done affair, and his players' graft coupled with the Spaniard's acumen has come to the forefront in a four-month stretch during which Newcastle have suffered league losses only to champions Manchester City and Liverpool over 12 matches (6-4-2) since the turn of the calendar year.
"Always I talk about a winning mentality, and we have shown that," Benitez told Newcastle's official website. "You try to win every game, you try to go there and get three points in every game. I've said that against the majority of the teams and some people say, 'maybe one point is enough.'
"I could see the passion of the fans and I can feel the passion now. Everybody has been trying to do their best to help the team, to help these young players to perform at the level they are performing at."
Newcastle have been a case study in defence and compactness, with Perez and Gayle the team's joint-leaders in goals with five. Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey has played his way into consideration by Gareth Southgate for the England national team for this summer's World Cup, a testament to the 26-year-old's ability to curb his mercurial temper that flashed even as recently as the season opener when he needlessly stamped Spurs midfielder and potential teammate Dele Alli.
"If Jonjo goes to the World Cup, he can be a great player," Benitez told The Guardian. "Jonjo's different from the players England already have and he can do a lot of things. He would be good in Russia. Jonjo's focused at the moment but I think he'd be even better at a tournament like the World Cup.
"I think he'd stary really focused. If Jonjo's part of things for a few weeks he can be a very important player. I think we can forget about his past."
There are parts of Everton's season they would like to put in the past, most notably their doomed Europa League campaign that contributed to Ronald Koeman's sacking. Sam Allardyce did what Sam Allardyce does when he is asked to perform a rescue mission, make his magic work with a basic approach from the back out, and the Toffees (11-9-14) are safe with 42 points heading into their final four matches.
Yet it continues to be likely that Everton and Allardyce will part ways at season's end, with "Big Sam" incandescent with rage after the team released a survey to ticket holders asking to rate Allardyce's coaching efforts. Billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri is expected to chair a board meeting to see if Allardyce will serve out the remainder of the 18-month contract he signed, but with the Toffees 2-2-3 in their last seven matches and the wins coming at the expense of 10-man sides, there has been little traction under the veteran gaffer.
Everton have drawn consecutive matches, following up a Merseyside stalemate at home against Liverpool with a 1-1 draw versus Swansea City on April 14. The Toffees took a lead right before halftime on an own goal by Swans defender Kyle Naughton, who later atoned for his error by setting up Jordan Ayew's goal on 71 minutes that provided a split of the spoils.
Allardyce is expecting a strong challenge from Newcastle, but takes confidence from Everton's home form in which they have claimed 24 of the last 36 points available at Goodison Park.
"They are in the best form they have been in all season since so it will be a tough test," the manager told Everton's official website. "We want to make sure we try to win this match and do not let Newcastle sneak above us. That is very important and it will be a very competitive game.
"We are striving to finish the season as best we can and acquire as many points as we can. We have a responsibility to finish the season well and make everybody feel better."
Everton are still without top playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson and Mason Holgate due to knee and ankle injuries, respectively. Newcastle must make do without Toffees loanee Christian Atsu per league rules.
Shelvey had the red mist descend upon him late in the reverse fixture, a 1-0 Everton victory at St James' Park on Dec. 13 settled by a Wayne Rooney goal on 27 minutes that former Newcastle No. 1 keeper Karl Darlow should have done better to stop.
Everton have won four on the spin over Newcastle and are 8-1-1 in the last 10 league matches between the teams. The Magpies' lone win in their last 13 visits to the blue section of Merseyside (1-3-9) was a 1-0 triumph Sept. 18, 2010, on a goal by Hatem Ben Arfa.
Updated April 22, 2018