The next instalment in the Premier League chase for survival comes in the form of Newcastle United. They come into the remaining weeks of the season in some form, as they are unbeaten in four.
More impressively, this run extends to seven matches if teams in the bottom half are just taken into account, which will be a huge factor in weeks to come.
However, they still have their downsides and a lot of these matches have been draws. If they start to swing in the oppositions favour, it could be a nervous end to the season.
Here’s a further look at the issues around Newcastle.
Why will they stay up? Quite simply, Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard is a level above the bottom half of the Premier League. It’s difficult to see how Newcastle can keep him beyond this season regardless of their fate. If they manage to secure much needed investment, then the possibility rises, but that’s a big if.
He has kept an average group of players competitive over the course of the season. As well, he is the most adept manager in the relegation mix. His squad hasn’t changed dramatically since the promotion last year, which is indicative of the much maligned Mike Ashley’s reign.
They did make a couple of good signings, however, in loaning Kenedy and Islam Slimani from Chelsea and Leicester City respectively. Kenedy has shone thus far, and the more minutes that he plays the more he will improve. His versatility is also a bonus, as he can cover the left back slot when required.
Newcastle, like Brighton, needed more firepower and Slimani (who is currently injured but working hard to regain fitness) represents good competition for Dwight Gayle, who can’t seem to quite breach the gap between the top division and the Championship.
However, Slimani’s effect so far has been to rejuvenate Gayle, who bagged two against Bournemouth last weekend and generally looks fitter and sharper.
Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame have the ability to dominate the midfield with their strength and range of passing. They give glimpses of their quality at intermittent stages. Despite some glaring weaknesses, they still have players that can keep them up, proven by the extremely important victory against Manchester United.
Why could they go down? For all their star players, they have players that are substandard and not of the quality required. A lack of serious investment could harm them as they haven’t upgraded in vital areas, such as the back four.
Their defensive record isn’t the worst, but without Lascelles the standard seriously drops.
It’s testament to Benitez that they haven’t conceded more goals, rather than the personnel themselves. If Benitez deployed a more attacking style, their frailties would be exposed.
Their home form is a concern as well. This is traditionally a key factor in survival, but this was rectified slightly in the impressive display against the Red Devils.
The next game is Liverpool which every team in the bottom half should assume as a loss realistically, and the match against Southampton at home on March 10th is massive.
If the Manchester United match was a positive blip in home form, then this could still cause them problems because, as well as Southampton, they still have Huddersfield and West Brom to play at St James Park.
Multiple dropped points in those encounters would plunge the Toon Army into peril, regardless of Benitez’s skillset.