Newcastle are bottom of the table without a win in the league this season. So this is a gimme for Norwich, right? Not so – especially with Aleksander Mitrović finding his feet. Dan Brigham previews the game with fan and journalist Lee Ryder from the Newcastle Chronicle
Dan: Hi Lee. So, two creditable draws against Manchester United and Chelsea means Newcastle have started off swimmingly... Seriously, though, no wins from your opening eight matches, a home defeat in the League Cup to Sheffield Wednesday, a thumping from Manchester City and a new manager already under pressure.
Has Sunday's game become a genuine must-win match this early in the season?
Lee: It's a must win in the eyes of the fans and, being realistic, Newcastle will be out of touch if they don't pick up a maximum haul here. I'll be seriously concerned if we don't get that first win in the next couple of games.
Dan: Taking you back to Steve McClaren's appointment, were you a fan of it at the time? He finished the season very poorly with Derby County – perhaps because of the speculation linking him to Newcastle – but he has a decent track record and is a respected coach. Was he who you wanted?
Lee: I think a lot of fans were looking towards maybe Frank de Boer from Ajax or, even more audaciously, at the then soon-to-be-out-of-work Jürgen Klopp. Slaven Bilić was another name I'd have liked to see.
But most fans were happy just to see a different coach come in. I have covered Middlesbrough as a reporter so know what McClaren can bring to the table. But sadly, this job is going to take time and he's going to need funds again in January.
Dan: For 135 minutes against Chelsea and Manchester City it seemed as if Newcastle were showing signs of finding some form. Then Sergio Agüero struck and any progress seems to have been blown away again. So what do you put the poor start down to – the players, the tactics, or something else?
Lee: I think it's the overall quality of the team. Unfortunately, it's not good enough. Players win you games not tactics and the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum, Daryl Janmaat, Aleksander Mitrović and Ayoze Pérez need more quality around them. Or we're going to be struggling.
Dan: Mitrović has had a slapstick start to the season. Do you have faith in him to be remembered more for his goals than his red cards?
Lee: I see Mitrović as a young player settling into the Premier League. It's too early to say he's going to get sent off every other week and he's obviously got a goal in the bag now at Man City. He needs to add to it and get his consistency going. If he does that and we get him the right service he'll get 16-plus goals I feel.
Dan: It can't all be doom and gloom. What did Newcastle do right against United and Chelsea (and 45 minutes against Man City), and what are the strengths that Alex Neil should be wary of?
Lee: Mitrović caused havoc against Chelsea and also did well in the first half against Man City as you point out, so Norwich will need their two centre-backs in top form that's for sure. And don't rule out Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko running at Norwich and causing problems as well. Newcastle have to end that run some time!
Dan: How will Newcastle go about trying to end that run on Sunday – how are they likely to set up? Has McClaren chopped and changed the formation and personnel this season, or is there a plan he's trying to implement?
Lee: It’s been a mix of 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 so far, so Alex Neil will have to keep guessing I'm afraid. Neil will probably come here to counter-attack but Newcastle will also be patient. This could be a tight one.
Dan: How much do you know of the Norwich side, and what have you made of them so far? We haven't won at St James's Park since 1988, but Norwich have only lost once away from home under Alex Neil...
Lee: I think nine points is very respectable for a newly promoted club and it's obviously six more than us. They will be tough to break down and I quite like Neil's no-nonsense attitude. After picking something up at West Ham and Liverpool plus a win at Sunderland, Norwich are a tough proposition and Newcastle have to take them seriously.
Dan: Finally – three quick questions.
Where do you think Newcastle will finish this season?11th
Where do you think Norwich will finish this season?
What's your score prediction for Sunday?
Lee: Newcastle to finish 11th, Norwich 15th and I’m going for Newcastle to break their duck with a 2-1 win.
Dan: Cheers Lee: I have a feeling Mitrović will come good for you, but hopefully not on Sunday. I’m going for the reverse of your prediction – 2-1 to Norwich.