As we look at the end of the season, our relegation run in has been renamed, after all, our perspective is from Newcastle United. The shift of mood on Tyneside means that we can look at who will be saved rather than who will go down. 

Since our last review, we have dropped a couple of teams from those covered. As we suspected, were Bournemouth to win on Tyneside, they would put themselves in a great position to escape. A home win against Swansea has put them in our “safe” category. 

Similarly, West Brom are, as we expected under Pulis, out of the danger zone. After 3 wins and a draw at Leicester in 4 games, they have done enough to be removed from the “threatened” list.

 

This week our cut off list starts at 33 points. As a reminder, we have colour coded fixtures. We have also adjusted those in with a chance of qualification for Europe. Manchester city winning the League cup has created an extra Europa League place, bringing in more challengers. 

Red means challenging, amber means mid table, green means winnable at the bottom, yellow equates to a home draw and we have assumed defeats away. It is simplistic but at least it is a system. 

So to the clubs

 

The Swansea run in looks demanding. Guidolin’s arrival at the Vetch has led to a run of 14 points in 9 games, including a surprise or two. They should be safe but just about remain in the drop zone with some distinctly tough fixtures. The arrival of Benitez at Newcastle makes a winnable game look critical for them.

 

Likewise, Crystal Palace look as though they should have been safe but Pardew’s league bubble has burst. A mere 4 points in 12 games makes them reachable. 

As Newcastle manager, Pardew had argued for playing weakened sides in cup competitions on the basis that a few clubs had been relegated when going for a cup final. Now in the semis for the FA Cup, could they follow Birmingham, Wigan and Portsmouth?

 

The Mackems have started a fight back under one of the masters of the relegation run in. Big Sam will clearly have targeted the local derby as a crucial 6 pointer. Without an away win against Benitez, only 1 goal scored and a losing record of 6/6 and a goal difference of -12, he may have to look elsewhere for comfort.

 

Norwich’s naivety has seen them with only 2 points out of the last 30. All depends on some games which they would have seen as winnable until recently, Watford and the 2 North East teams at home, Palace away. They still have challenges ahead.

 

And so to the big one that inspired our relegation count down. 

As recently as 10 days ago, we had slightly squeaky bums and were looking forward to a home win against Bournemouth to calm our nerves. The resulting away win for the Cherries proved to be the last straw for the Newcastle United hierarchy. 

Under McClaren, confidence had totally drained. In Benitez, we have found arguably the most professional coach in Europe. A talented squad, supplemented by around £80m of spending this season, finally has a leader who can inspire and motivate. 

The biggest hopes for salvation will be in the next 3 scheduled home games, against others in the relegation zone. Norwich and Villa away are other opportunities. 

Suddenly, however, Leicester provides an opportunity. For the second time in his career, Benitez has a debut against the man who followed him into the Valencia hot seat, Claudio Ranieiri. 

That previous debut was for inter against Roma who went on to qualify for the Champions league, an omen that Ranieri would appreciate. Similarly, his debut at Chelsea was against Champions League qualifiers, Manchester City. 

In fact, Rafa’s debut at Valencia had also yielded a win against ultimately Champions League qualifiers Real. He has also been unbeaten in the remaining 3 of his last 6 debuts, never having lost his first game as a top flight manager in any country. We can start to dream. 

Regardless of the Leicester result, supporters will look forward to any signs of progress, both tactically and in motivation. 

Looking beyond Monday night, there will be some other fascinating encounters against former rivals. There is no love lost with Allardyce against who he has a 100% home record. Similarly, the rivalry between he and guidolin yielded 3 draws and a home win for Rafa between Napoli and Udinese to go with his home win when at Inter. 

Intriguingly, of the rivalries, one that will generate most interest in Newcastle will be against Pardew’s Palace, the manager who he beat to win the 2006 FA Cup. There are also some challenging fixtures against clubs who he will hope to challenge next season, currently in the top 3; Spurs, Manchester City and his former club, Liverpool. 

The challenge is tough, as it is for other teams at the bottom. However, with Rafa in charge, given his professionalism and knowledge of the Premier League, the challenge seems to be even more daunting for Norwich and the Mackems. 

As the Orange Dutch contingent of Janmaat, Anita and Wijnaldum will undoubtedly tell us, the future is bright, the future is Rafa.