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Newcastle face moment of truth as Premier League winter break ends


London (AFP) – New-look Newcastle take on Frank Lampard’s Everton on Tuesday after splashing the cash in the January transfer window as the Premier League gears up for a first full programme of matches after the winter break.

Bottom-club Burnley host Manchester United while Manchester City will seek to return to winning ways against Brentford after a rare off-day against Southampton last month.

AFP Sport takes a look at some of the talking points ahead of the midweek action.

No excuses for Howe

Newcastle became one of the richest clubs in the world when they were bought in October by a group led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund but initially they could do little with their money.

The January transfer window was always likely to be make or break for the Magpies, who have just two Premier League wins all season and remain stuck in the relegation zone.

Newcastle were the biggest spenders last month, spending about £85 million ($115 million) to bring in Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, Burnley forward Chris Wood and three defenders — Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn and Matt Targett — to boost a leaky defence.

For all their problems, Eddie Howe’s side are just one point from safety, with Burnley and Watford, either side of Newcastle in the drop zone, struggling to find the wins they desperately need.

But Tuesday’s game will be a tough one.

Ex-Chelsea boss Lampard started his Everton reign with an impressive 4-1 win at home to Brentford in the FA Cup and is equally desperate for the points.

Can Rangnick make Man Utd purr?

Manchester United looked like they had at last found some rhythm under interim manager Ralf Rangnick in the early stages of Friday’s FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough before they lost their way and exited on penalties.

United wasted a glut of golden chances in the fourth-round match and paid the price when the Championship side equalised.

Rangnick’s side still look less than the sum of their parts two months after he took charge at Old Trafford, even though he was surprisingly upbeat about their performance against Boro.

The German has thinned out his bloated squad, allowing forward Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek to leave on loan but the club are also now without the suspended Mason Greenwood, who was arrested last week on suspicion of the rape and assault of a woman before being bailed.

For all their attacking riches, United have scored 19 goals fewer than Premier League leaders Manchester City this season and have struggled to kill off teams.

Winning the Champions League appears unlikely, making it vital that United finish in the top four.

Rangnick believes they are going in the right direction but they must find their mojo soon.

Arsenal short of firepower

Arsenal are in the mix to qualify for the Champions League after an absence of five seasons but do they have the firepower to get them over the line?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has now left the club to join Barcelona after a troubled last few months at the Emirates, leaving Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah as the only senior forward options. 

Lacazette has scored just three times in the league while Nketiah, yet to start a league game, has yet to get off the mark.

Manager Mikel Arteta, whose side travel to Wolves on Thursday, says his squad has the right amount of quality and experience and is confident they can finish the season on a high.

“We are really looking forward to (the run-in),” he said. “We know what the aim is at the end of the season, where we want to be — it’s high but it’s possible and we’re going to have a real go in the second half of the season to achieve it.”

Arteta will look to Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka to chip in regularly but he may come to regret his lack of options in attack.

Fixtures (1945 GMT unless stated)

Tuesday

Newcastle v Everton, West Ham v Watford, Burnley v Manchester United (2000)

Wednesday

Manchester City v Brentford, Norwich v Crystal Palace, Tottenham v Southampton, Aston Villa v Leeds (2000)

Thursday

Liverpool v Leicester, Wolves v Arsenal

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