Weblog: The football punter

Newcastle should benefit from Premier break

EFL Cup second round
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Wednesday

Newcastle have been struggling to cope with a tough set of Premier League fixtures but they can take advantage of an easier task at Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup second round.

Four of Newcastle's first five league games this season are against big six clubs - they visit Manchester City on Saturday and host Arsenal after the international break.

Rafa Benitez understands the importance of gaining some reward from such a tough run of games and has attempted to prioritise points over performance.

He set Newcastle up to nullify Chelsea on Sunday and the approach seemed to be working until referee Paul Tierney awarded a disputed 76th-minute penalty to the Londoners.

The teams traded goals in the final stages, condemning Newcastle to a 2-1 defeat and providing ammunition for the critics arguing for a less risk-averse approach.

However, Benitez's options were limited by the absence of key players with centre-back Jamaal Lascelles and midfielder Jonjo Shelvey injured and influential winger Kenedy unable to play against his parent club.

Of the trio only Kenedy will be free to face Forest but Benitez can afford to play a more attacking style of football, knowing Forest do not possess anywhere near the attacking ability of Chelsea.

Forest knocked Newcastle out at the same stage of last season's EFL Cup – posting an extra-time 3-2 success at St James' Park - but they go into this week's game with questions to answer after playing poorly in successive 2-2 draws away to Wigan and at home to Birmingham.

A lot of money has been spent with the intention of taking Forest back to the big time, yet manager Aitor Karanka is a long way from working out his best team.

He reacted to the poor performance at Wigan by making six changes for the game against Birmingham. But Forest failed to shine in front of the Sky cameras and were largely outfought and outplayed by a Blues' side seeking their first win of the campaign.

None of the new signings impressed and it was left to substitute Joe Lolley and veteran striker Daryl Murphy to turn the game around with a couple of excellent finishes.

Karanka may view the Newcastle game as a perfect testing ground for his new recruits and needs to see a lot more from £13m summer signing Joao Carvalho and loanee winger Gil Dias, who are struggling to adapt to the pace and physicality of the English game.

However, an experimental selection could backfire against a Newcastle side determined to get their season moving forward.

The cups will not be Benitez's priority but he needs to keep the supporters onside and is likely to select a strong enough line-up to get the job done.


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Match in Focus

17:30 TODAY BT2

W Bremen v Hertha Berlin

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Bremen are unbeaten in their last ten home games against Hertha
Expert verdict
Two of the Bundesliga's unbeaten teams go head-to-head at the Weserstadion and they might be happy to settle for a share of the spoils. Second-placed Hertha Berlin are doing more than anyone to keep tabs on leaders Bayern but they haven't won away to Werder Bremen since 2006.