Newcastle United have been handed a tough start to their Premier League campaign – but all is not lost.
The Magpies face four of last season’s top six in their first five games, and have Manchester United as their eight game of the campaign as well.
We take a look ahead to the end of October at the key fixtures fans should be looking out for, and where the points may come from.
Newcastle v Tottenham Hotspur (11 August)
The season opener is always a special occasion. You arrive at the stadium with a degree of optimism and semblance of hope about what the season could produce. Newcastle fans will have that feeling when, for the second year in a row, they welcome Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs to St James’s Park.
The Magpies fell to a 2-0 defeat last year in front of the Sky Sports cameras, not helped by Jonjo Shelvey’s sending off. The scores were level when he was shown a straight red card three minutes after half-time. Dele Alli and Ben Davies netted twice in nine minutes after the hour mark.
With the transfer window closing before the first game, Newcastle should go into the game prepared. However, the first game of the season has not always been kind to the club. They’ve won only one of their last eight opening day fixtures in the Premier League.
Cardiff City v Newcastle (18 August)
Let’s face it, Newcastle’s opening to the new Premier League season is treacherous. It makes the second game of the campaign a key chance to pick up points.
A visit to the Welsh capital is a prime opportunity. Benitez showed last season that he was adept at picking up points from teams around and below the team in the table.
The Magpies have won three of their last four games at Cardiff, the last a 2-0 win in 2017.
Newcastle v Arsenal (15 September)
The club’s 2-1 win over Arsenal in April pushed Newcastle from a team who consolidated their position in the Premier League to one which could class itself as a top ten team. The stadium was raucous that day.
For the first time since January 1996 a manager not named Arsene Wenger will be in the Arsenal dug-out at St James’s Park. Unai Emery starts with fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea. By matchday five, when Arsenal arrive in the northeast, the Spaniard could easily be under pressure already as his new charges take time to gel.
Benitez and Emery, two former Valencia managers, and two keen chess-like-football players will indulge in a tactical battle. It should be a fascinating watch.
Newcastle v Leicester City (29 September)
The Premier League’s top six will likely play a league of their own, while the other 14 teams scrap it out for the European places, mid-table safety and trying to avoid the dreaded drop.
Like Newcastle, the Foxes will be looking to push on, eyeing that seventh place finish. This fixture at St James’s Park will be an early sign of where he team is placed as the look to make forward steps from last season.
Southampton v Newcastle (27 October)
The Toon Army take one of their longest trips early on in the season to a Southampton side looking to respond to a dismal 2017/2018 campaign.
As with the likes of Leicester and Everton, Southampton will be one of the sides Benitez will have earmarked as potential rivals, therefore even greater thought and tactical work will go into the preparation.
Getting wins against Leicester at home and Southampton away will be key in helping the club progress and could be the difference between a good season and an outstanding season.