Newcastle vs West Ham | Sunday 15th August 2021, 14:00 | Sky Sports
The first Super Sunday of the season takes us to St James’ Park, where Newcastle welcome West Ham to the northeast.
After finishing sixth last season, the Hammers are counting down the days until their Europa League adventure begins, whilst Newcastle will be looking to build on last season’s 12th-place finish.
Joe Willock completed his move north to Newcastle on Friday, but he wasn’t registered in time to feature in this one. While Freddie Woodman will make his Toon debut in goal with Martin Dúbravka injured and Karl Darlow recovering from Covid-19.
West Ham are slightly weaker as things stand. No new faces have arrived at the London Stadium and Jesse Lingard returning to his parent club – Man Utd – means the Hammers will look towards Saïd Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen to conjure up the brilliance he added to their side last season.
Moyes will also hope Michail Antonio’s hamstrings cope with the demand of their fixture list because they do lack an out-and-out striker if he was to get injured.
Last season’s reflections
West Ham ended the season with an expected goals for tally of 62.4xG, which was the fifth-highest in the league, with the only top-four sides faring better. In contrast, Newcastle’s was 49.9xG, which put them 12th in the expected goals table.
The Magpies did, however, have the fifth-worst record for expected goals against (64.2xGA), with only West Brom, Sheffield Utd, Palace and Leeds producing worse data.
West Ham’s xGA was 53.7, but they only conceded 47 goals, so Moyes’ men may have ridden their luck at times.
On that basis, you’d be swung towards the away win in the 1×2 market. However, does the return of fans play a part in deciding this game? Last weekend’s curtain-raiser in the EFL saw 14 home wins, 15 draws and just seven away wins. So, that’s something to consider this weekend and might see a few willing to take the hosts in the Asian handicap markets.
The betting angles
With it being the start of the season, I tend to reduce my stakes, just until patterns emerge, and trends are set. And, on paper, this could be quite an intriguing battle that led me down quite a few avenues before whittling down the potential shortlist of bets.
I did start looking at cards with fans back. But the appointment of Martin Atkinson was off-putting. The Yorkshireman only averaged 2.4 yellows per game across 26 top-flight games last season.
The former cop took charge of four West Ham games, showing eight cards. Interestingly, all eight of those cautions went to opposition players, so he booked no Hammers players.
Meanwhile, his only Newcastle assignment saw what can be referred to as the Atkinson classic – no goals and no booking points. So, those unders backers could be interested by this one. However, last weekend’s EFL games did see plenty of cards with the crowds back.
Looking at the EFL last weekend saw 60 cards for the home teams and 75 for the visiting sides. Going further, in terms of most booking points, 12 home sides collected the most, there were seven ties, with away teams picking up the most in 17 games. So, that’s something to look out for.
However, there were three angles of interest, but I’m going to roll the dice on two of them. I was close to taking Benrahma to score at 4/1 (Ladbrokes). The tricky, agile wide forward can pose this Newcastle defence with plenty of problems, and he’s been excellent in pre-season.
The West Ham attacks have flowed nicely in the build-up to this campaign and Benrahma has been hugely influential. He scored in their 6-2 win against Celtic, showing composure to sit the keeper down before rolling it into the net. Then, he scored a great curling effort from outside the box against his former club, Brentford. He’ll be on one the radar this season.
But the first of my two plays does involve Benrahma in some capacity, with the way he likes to dribble with the ball and his approach to beating his direct opponent.
With Newcastle deploying wing-backs during pre-season, it would be a surprise to see Steve Bruce revert to a back four. Therefore, Jacob Murphy could well find himself in hot water with Atkinson when Benrahma has the ball.
Murphy was cautioned three times in 17 starts and nine sub appearances in the Premier League and all of those came here at St James’ Park, including when he played at wing-back in their 3-2 win v West Ham.
The 26-year-old wouldn’t naturally be a wing-back, even though he played a large part in this role last term. So, at 13/2, he looks a big price all things considered.
On the opposite side is Matt Ritchie. And we know he likes to chance his arm from distance, so quotes of even money on him to have 1+ shot from outside the area do interest me.
As this Newcastle side has lost quality, his shots per game numbers have dropped, with last season being his lowest average (0.6pg) since joining the club. In previous seasons, his shots per game averages have been 2.7, 1.7, 1.1, 1.4 and 0.6.
There’s a small chance he could end up on free-kick duty if Jonjo Shelvey doesn’t pull rank. Plus, wing-backs and full-backs did have chances against this Hammers side at the end of last season.
Southampton right-back Kyle Walker-Peters had three chances in the season finale, while their left-back Mohammed Salisu had one. And West Brom’s Conor Townsend also had a couple, so it could be an area to exploit.
It does look like a fascinating game to start their seasons. While Benrahma could shine for West Ham, it’s the Newcastle wing-backs who take the eye in two different markets.