Following a six-goal thriller in Philadelphia, the Mags hit the American road again to play in Atlanta. We are up against Chelsea, whom we last saw on the final day of our prosperous 22/23 campaign. Previewing this fixture is another Stateside Mag, Durim Halimi…
Chelsea, Premiership Summer Series (Match 2 of 3), Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, USA
KO: Wednesday 26th July 2023, Local Time 8:15PM, UK Time 1:15AM
All my life growing up in Madison, Wisconsin (one hour west of Milwaukee and two hours north of Chicago), I have become accustomed to a few specific reactions regarding my support for Newcastle United.
The first is the raised eyebrow, which in the moment silently asks the question, “Out of all the top teams you could support in the world you chose Newcastle United!?”
The second reaction is something I am sure every Magpie here across the Atlantic has experienced: “What’s up with the referee uniform, pal?”
I just smile and shrug off the all-too-common referee statement, but I love addressing the question how Newcastle United became my club. Football (I refused to call it soccer despite living in a land where that is the primary term) was nearly impossible to find on American television in the late 90s and early 00s, aside from major tournaments and cup finals.
Luckily, my parents, Albanian immigrants, invested in a satellite dish that had over 100 Albanian channels, and some of those sports channels would regularly show Premier League action. It only took 20 or so minutes of watching Alan Shearer to get hooked to this club. The grand architecture of St. James’ Park and the passionate fans it encompassed only added to my admiration.
Now, at the age of 31, I am enjoying watching this football club the way I was excited as a child. The PIF era has generated a new sense of optimism for everyone associated with this amazing football club.
Despite spending large sums of money on impressive players across the pitch to significantly improve the quality and depth of this squad, the best decision our new owners have made is hiring Eddie Howe as manager.
It has been far too long since Newcastle United had a manager who truly understands the importance of this team to the city. He is in sync with the effort and style of play fans wish to see at St. James’ Park.
Since Howe’s arrival, the urgency fans are witnessing on both ends of the pitch shows just how committed the players are to getting all three points week in and week out. However, what is equally impressive is the togetherness that is on display in the Magpies’ camp.
After two successful friendlies in the UK against National League outfit Gateshead and Scottish giants Rangers in their respective stadiums, Newcastle United have made their way across the pond to compete in the Premier League Summer Series.
The Magpies have already played their first match on American soil on July 23rd against Aston Villa, a team we will kickstart our 23/24 Premier League campaign against in a few weeks. Eddie Howe will look for more improvement against Chelsea in Atlanta on Wednesday.
The match against Chelsea is honestly going to be an emotional one for me personally: it will be the first time I will watch Newcastle United play in person after 21 years of supporting the club from afar. In all seriousness, after my wedding ceremony and the birth of my children, watching those eleven players line up on the pitch in front of me will be one of the best moments of my life.
Watching a game at St. James’ Park is still at the top of my bucket list, but watching the Toon in the beautiful Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta will be a special, unique experience. As the start of the season approaches and the quality of the opposition improves in each game, I expect Howe to deploy a strong lineup with minimal experiments.
It remains to be seen when Nick Pope will be involved as he nears full recovery from hand surgery, and it will be interesting to see how quickly Howe plans to integrate new signing Harvey Barnes. With only a few weeks left before the start of the new campaign, one can only assume that Barnes will play some good minutes as he is expected to start most games for the Magpies this season.
That being said, what fun would this preview be without a formation and lineup prediction? Howe is big on consistency and has only adjusted his formation mid-game depending on the circumstances. For that reason, I believe fans should expect to see a 4-3-3 setup in Atlanta.
With Pope’s status still in doubt, and the fact that Martin Dubravka conceded three goals, I can see Loris Karius getting the nod. The back line in front of him should consist of Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar, Sven Botman, and Dan Burn.
Bruno Guimaraes is a given in midfield, with new boy Sandro Tonali alongside him. Looking ahead to the new campaign, Joelinton will probably be the final name to complete that trio in the middle, but Elliot Anderson has been in fine form this summer and deserves some big minutes.
Miguel Almiron is returning to his former ground and he is the best available option to play on the right flank until Barnes is up to speed in Howe’s system.
Momentum is on the side of Anthony Gordon from his performances for England in the EURO U21 tournament. Fans will be hoping he carries that form over into the PL Summer Series.
Callum Wilson did score 18 goals last season, but Newcastle United will only get the most out of Alexander Isak if he plays up the middle and that is the role I believe fans will see him in against Chelsea. He performed well for 45 minutes against Aston Villa and he will surely be looking to score again on Wednesday.
Naturally, as fans we are hoping for a victory in Atlanta, but the most important thing is for this team to stay fit and confident. A long, difficult domestic and continental season awaits Newcastle United. I firmly believe that the players will return to England with even more to play for after seeing how fervently they are supported outside the UK.
I can guarantee that I will lose my voice during those 90 minutes against Chelsea to push the team on. I am forever grateful for this opportunity to see the black and white stripes in person.
Howay the Lads!