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Steve Bruce has challenged his Newcastle United side to become more consistent this season if they are to compete with the “elite” clubs in the Premier League.

United finished 12th last season after winning three of their final four games – just one win less than they managed in their previous 23 outings in the competition.

Only three times all campaign did Newcastle register back-to-back victories, in fact, and Bruce is seeking an improvement on that front in 2021-22.

“Last year, we probably finished at the top of the league in our league,” he said. “I think there’s an elite league, then there’s the little bit underneath that.

“In the end, we got to a respectable 12th position. We started well and finished well, but had an awful few months over the winter.

“Can we add that bit more consistency? Can we stay a bit fitter in certain areas? For me, it’s about trying to slowly improve on where we finished last year.”

While Newcastle are hoping to better last season’s league position, opening-game opponents West Ham would likely accept another sixth-placed finish.

That was the Hammers’ highest top-flight finish since 1998-99 and David Moyes’ men must now balance domestic football with a first Europa League campaign.

“I hope this season is much of the same as last season,” Moyes said when asked for his targets this campaign. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it again.

“The players were terrific last season. We will work very hard to achieve it but last season is gone, it’s in the past now.

“I’m going to go in with the same mindset – attacking it really positively, try and play well and score goals, and there’s a big excitement about Europa League football at West Ham.”

Newcastle were boosted ahead of Sunday’s game with the signing of Joe Willock from Arsenal on a permanent deal, but he was not registered in time to feature against West Ham.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Newcastle United – Callum Wilson

Wilson scored 12 goals in 26 league appearances in a first season at Newcastle that was hampered by a series of niggling hamstring issues. The £20million striker is fit to start this weekend and has a great record against West Ham, scoring eight goals in 10 Premier League appearances against them.

West Ham – Michail Antonio

Moyes played largely without a recognised striker last season, with Antonio more than stepping up by scoring 10 goals in 26 top-flight outings. He has 46 Premier League goals for West Ham in total, leaving the versatile forward just one short of Paolo Di Canio as the Hammers’ all-time leading goalscorer in the competition.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– This is the third time Newcastle and West Ham have faced in their first Premier League matches of the season (previously 2002-03 and 2020-21). The only such fixture to be played more often in Premier League history is Newcastle v Tottenham Hotspur (four times).

– Since they returned to the Premier League in 2017-18, against no side have Newcastle registered more league wins than West Ham (five, level with Southampton), completing a double over the Hammers last season.

– Newcastle beat West Ham in their opening Premier League match last season, winning 2-0 at the London Stadium. The Magpies have not won on matchday one in consecutive Premier League seasons since beating Wigan Athletic in 2006-07 and Bolton Wanderers in 2007-08.

– West Ham have lost their first Premier League match in each of the last five seasons stretching back to 2016-17. The last team to lose their opening top-flight match in six consecutive seasons – without a relegation in between – were Grimsby Town between 1934-35 and 1946-47.

– Newcastle boss Bruce has won eight of his 20 Premier League encounters with West Ham (D4 L8), only winning more against Bolton in the competition (12).

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