Eye on the Opposition: Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle United (03/02/2018)

Written by Jack Pierce

Palace play a Newcastle side whose fanbase was also desperate for transfer window recruits. Here's Jack with a look at Sunday's opponents. 

Selhurst Schalke

There are few figures that draw a more forlorn figure in the Premier League than Rafa Benitez at the moment.

The Spaniard pinned his hopes on those in the boardroom backing him to the extent Newcastle would have a fighting chance between now and the end of the season of staying up and avoiding an immediate return to the second tier. Islam Slimani has arrived on loan from Leicester and Martin Dubravka has arrived from Sparta Prague, also in a temporary arrangement, on deadline day. I'll let you guess how Newcastle fans have reacted to such minimal business.

The uncertainty caused by ongoing negotiations about a potential sale of the club won't have helped but that will have done little to lessen frustrations of fans and, most importantly, Benitez. There had been murmurings earlier in the season that the manager was on the brink of leaving his post and was linked with the West Ham hot seat even before Slaven Bilic was turfed out. He wasn't tempted if he was approached but should another club come in for Benitez, would the temptation be too much this time?

Goalscoring has been a problem and the hope will be that Slimani's arrival will address that issue. Wednesday night's draw against Burnley gave enough clues as to why Slimani has been brought in and Joselu is most likely the man to make way as and when the Algerian is fit to join the ranks. The former Stoke striker hasn't looked comfortable in front of goal all season and a missed penalty and a gilt edged chance that he spurned last time out will have decreased any remaining confidence he had.

Just a point above the drop zone, Benitez needs to galvanise a squad of players who have a lot to do in order to main top flight status for next season. The impact he had two years ago was incredibly impressive and with a bit more time, Newcastle may have avoided relegation. They didn't and to do fail to avoid it again this time around would certainly see Benitez leave.

With things so tight at the bottom end of the table, the fixture represents a great chance for either side to mark a dart to the door marked 'safety'. A draw on Sunday doesn't do much for either Roy Hodgson or his counterpart which could bode for a fairly attacking game.

0-0 it is then.

Key Players

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The Brazilian wide man has joined. Newcastle until the end of the season and on first impressions, it looks like a move that could work from both the club and the player. His debut was an encouraging one and the width and speed down the line was something that his new side had been lacking at times throughout the season.

Antonio Conte has used him sparingly at Chelsea so there should be plenty left in Kenedy's tank. If he maintains form and fitness, his signing may prove one of the most influential of the January window.

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Ayoze Perez

Another who could take Newcastle over the line by the end of the season, Perez needs to step his performances up a level. Undoubtedly talented, Perez is now of the age and possesses the relevant experience, to influence games more often than he currently does.

Played either behind the main striker or from a flank, Perez is happy to run at defenders but is also a very clever user of the ball in the box.

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Islam Slimani

An injury doubt for this one, Newcastle fans have high hopes for Slimani and heaven knows they need a goal scorer. The Leicester striker had options, both here and abroad, but chose to head to the North East.

Excellent in the air and a fine hold up man, Slimani didn't flourish at Leicester; in the main because of Jamie Vardy's form and the rarity that the club used more than one up front. The Toon Army will be hoping there's plenty left in Slimani's engine and a eagerness to prove any doubters wrong.