West Ham's Form
West Ham will travel to St James Park with some momentum behind them, as they won five successive pre-season friendlies. The final test came at the London Stadium in the Betway Cup against the Italian side Atalanta. It saw the return of players from EUFA EURO 2020 - Declan Rice for United and the highly-rated Joakim Maehle for the visitors.
The main takeaway was Said Benrahma's excellence as he shone again against UEFA Champions League opposition. He's been deployed in an attacking midfield role recently and it seems West Ham will bear the fruits of this change after a very impressive pre-season, it seems he's earned himself a place in the squad to replace Jesse Lingard, whose loan expired at the end of last season. He and West Ham will be full of confidence as they lost just one of their final five away fixtures at the tail end of the season, interestingly to Newcastle United…
The Geordies also ended the season strongly, after the return of Allan Saint-Maximin they lost just two of their final nine Premier League fixtures - these came at the hands of Arsenal and champions-elect Manchester City. This run of form carried The Toon out of a relegation scrap to a healthy 12th placed finish. Despite this success, Steve Bruce is yet to be backed in the transfer window.
Newcastle were hit heavily with injuries last season; Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron all facing extended periods on the sidelines - this proved how important they were to Steve Bruce as they went on a torrid run of form without them. Newcastle are likely to be in a relegation scrap again and injuries to these key players could prove costly.
Defensively, Newcastle were terrible last season. They conceded 62 goals. Just two current Premier League teams conceded more. They also kept just two home clean sheets - a truly terrible amount. They also conceded eight goals from set-pieces last year and this could be something to exploit for David Moyes' side as it was a huge strength for them, scoring 16 from the dead ball; Thomas Soucek's aerial ability is a huge part of this and he should pose a threat on Sunday.
According to Sky Sports, Joe Willock is set to sign for Newcastle, he had a fantastic loan spell at the club last season, helping drag them out of the relegation scrap scoring eight goals in just 11 starts - often at crucial times. This would be a huge motivator for them and his quality will definitely help.
The hosts used a number of formations last year, adapting from a 4-1-4-1 to a 5-3-2, both of which are notoriously defensive. I expect Newcastle to sit back and counter-attack in the 5-3-2 on Sunday as this was predominantly used after the return of Saint-Maximin and has been used in pre-season, this was very successful for them. They had the lowest defensive line in the Premier League last season, meaning that they play a low block; often very deep and allow the opponents to control the ball. They also made the most clearances (23.1) per match, this shows that they will sit deep and often come under a siege of pressure; however, it also suggests that they handle it extremely well.
Alphonse Areola is expected to start for The Irons after signing on a season-long loan from PSG, although this is expected to become permanent. He was the 2nd best goalkeeper in Europe based on xG saved (+7.6), only Jan Oblak (+9.8) had a better shot-stopping rate than the Frenchman. Although it's unlikely he will replicate these numbers, it is a very good signing.
I expect this to be a dominant performance from West Ham, due to the defensive set-up of Newcastle. The Hammers should have plenty of possession but must be wary of the counter-attack and the pacy attack that the hosts possess. The stats suggest this should be a very entertaining matchup. A win would be a great start if West Ham want to improve upon or replicate last season's success.