Things are beginning to go right for Newcastle: John Brewin's standout matches

Our European expert picks five matches from the top leagues to preview ahead of the weekend’s action.

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EVERY FRIDAY, FOOTBALL writer John Brewin – who has clocked up countless air miles covering the European game over the past decade – looks ahead to five key fixtures from the Premier League and around the continent. 

As well as explaining why you need to know about these matches, he’ll also pick out a tip for each one along with the latest William Hill prices. 

This week, he looks at an upturn in fortunes for Saudi-backed Newcastle United as manager Eddie Howe prepares for a Premier League meeting with Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. 

Newcastle United v Aston Villa, Premier League – 2pm Sunday

newcastle-uniteds-kieran-trippier-right-celebrates-scoring-their-sides-third-goal-of-the-game-with-team-mates-during-the-premier-league-match-at-st-james-park-newcastle-picture-date-tuesday-fe Kieran Trippier (right) celebrates his goal against Everton with Newcastle team-mates. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The signs on Tuesday night were that Newcastle might just get out of relegation trouble. In beating Everton 3-1, they showed that their January transfer business could be just the ticket for survival. Two wins in a row for Eddie Howe have the Magpies out of the bottom three and the weekend offers them chance to pull further clear.

All of their peers in the relegation battle face difficult assignments. Norwich are playing Manchester City and Burnley face Liverpool, while Watford host Brighton, Everton take on Leeds and Brentford, beginning to slide, welcome Crystal Palace.

A home game with Steven Gerrard’s Villa, with just one win in five and who conceded three goals to Leeds in Wednesday’s draw, offers another chance for the St James’ Park crowd to roar on their heroes.

Kieran Tripper, battle-hardened and with experience at the highest level, scored a fine goal against Everton and has marked himself out as a leader in his short time on Tyneside. Chris Wood has just three goals all season but showed his effectiveness at holding up the ball and making a nuisance of himself to defenders. 

Of the players already at the club when the Saudi Arabian takeover took place, Allan Saint-Maximin continues to show what a jewel he is and Jonjo Shelvey, setting aside his propensity to get a bit physical in tackles, has also raised his game.

aston-villas-jacob-ramsey-scores-their-sides-second-goal-of-the-game-during-the-premier-league-match-at-villa-park-birmingham-picture-date-wednesday-february-9-2022 Jacob Ramsey bagged two goals for Villa in the 3-3 draw with Leeds. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

What of Villa? Gerrard is finding life far harder in England’s West Midlands than up in Scotland, though his team are nowhere near in trouble. Only Everton, Gerrard’s old-style whipping boys, have been beaten since the turn of the year by Villa, and that 1-0 win was their only clean sheet since winning 2-0 at Norwich on 14 December.

The addition of Philippe Coutinho has added some attacking class, and youngster Jacob Ramsey’s growing reputation was franked by two goals against Leeds, though Gerrard admitted his team had been pulled into “chaos” by Marcelo Bielsa’s men.

Howe will hope his Newcastle, freshly motivated and with that crowd on their side, can do the same. Expect goals, since neither outfit is much good at defending.

John’s bet: Newcastle and Aston Villa to draw and two or more goals in the match @ 7/2

Napoli v Inter Milan, Serie A – 5pm Saturday

milan-italy-21-november-2021-dries-mertens-of-ssc-napoli-scores-a-goal-during-the-serie-a-football-match-between-fc-internazionale-and-ssc-napoli-credit-nicolo-campoalamy-live-news Dries Mertens of Napoli facing Inter back in November. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

A huge game between Serie A’s top two sides, with Inter smarting from being on the wrong end of Olivier Giroud’s talents in last week’s Milan derby.

That closed the gap between the three teams at the top to a single point, with Napoli being in the best form having made short work of Bologna, Salernitana and Venezia — scoring eight goals and conceding just one.

Inter do have a game in hand on their southern rivals, who they defeated 3-2 in a dramatic game in November that saw Napoli’s unbeaten record end. Dries Mertens missed a golden chance to equalise in the last minute. Can they gain revenge at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium?

John’s bet: Napoli to beat Inter @ 17/10

RB Leipzig v Köln, Bundesliga – 7.30pm Friday 

leipzig-coach-domenico-tedesco-soccer-bayern-leipzig-soccer-bundesliga-fc-bayern-munich-rb-leipzig-32-21st-matchday-season-2021-2022-on-february-4th-2022-in-munich-allianzarena-germany Domenico Tedesco is turning things around at RB Leipzig. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Last week saw Leipzig push Bayern Munich hard, losing 3-2 and rather unfortunately when Josko Gvardiol scored the winner with an own goal. Still, there continues to be good signs under Domenico Tedesco since he replaced Jesse Marsch.

To get back into the race for the Champions League, Leipzig need to leapfrog Köln, a place above them in sixth and having a fine season, having only escaped relegation last season by winning the play-off.

With three goals in his last three matches, Anthony Modeste is one of German football’s most in-form strikers. So too is Andre Silva, Leipzig’s talisman.

John’s bet: Leipzig to beat Köln and both teams to score @ 13/8

Espanyol v Barcelona, La Liga – 8pm Sunday 

barcelona-spain-06th-feb-2022-dani-alves-of-fc-barcelona-during-the-liga-match-between-fc-barcelona-and-atletico-de-madrid-at-camp-nou-in-barcelona-spain-credit-dax-imagesalamy-live-news Dani Alves was sent off against Atletico Madrid. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The city of Barcelona derby is a renewal of Xavi’s first game in charge, won narrowly at Camp Nou in November via a Memphis Depay penalty.

Things have been getting better for Barca on the field of play, with an unbeaten run that stretches back to 4 December and last week’s 4-2 win over Atletico Madrid. The less said about off the field the better, with CEO Ferran Reverter quitting after a sponsorship deal with Spotify was struck by the debt-ridden club.

There will be no Dani Alves for Barca, who was red-carded against Atleti and had his ban increased to two matches just when the 38-year-old looked back to his old self.

Espanyol, yet to win in 2022, look ripe for derby defeat.

John’s bet: Barcelona to score in both halves @ 19/10

Manchester United v Southampton, Premier League – 12.30pm Saturday 

manchester-uniteds-harry-maguire-right-and-edinson-cavani-appear-dejected-after-the-premier-league-match-at-turf-moor-burnley-picture-date-tuesday-february-8-2022 Man United captain Harry Maguire (right) and Edinson Cavani after they were held to a 1-1 draw with Burnley. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

United’s midweek draw with Burnley came as little surprise, where the good play that led to Paul Pogba’s goal was undone by slack defending and then incoherent attacking when chasing a winner late on.

Ralf Rangnick has installed a modicum of solidity to United but at the expense of entertainment. They are a tough watch at the moment. That does not go for Southampton, on something of a crest in form under Ralf Hasenhuttl — coming off a fine win at Tottenham on Wednesday and a draw with Manchester City.

They represent dangerous opposition for United, whose top four hopes remain alive but only because those around them are just as feckless.

John’s bet: Manchester United and Southampton to draw @ 3/1

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org  

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