After Saturday’s collective effort (or lack of it), no ones place in the side should be safe, but here’s how I see us lining up.
Elliot has looked slow and lacklustre over the past two games, but I’m not convinced Rafa will change that department quite to easily. Fans are probbaly seeing why Rafa wanted a new goalkeeper over the summer, mind.
Yedlin must do much better but will almost certainly keep his place, as will Lejeune and Clark at centre-back – however one of those would almost certainly be dropped if Lascelles had been fit enough to return for this one.
Manquillo is another example, with Dummett another who sees this game come a little too soon for him, however I’d be inclined to bring Mbemba back in at left-back? West Brom are a big side and the tricky Matty Phillips is likely to be running at us from that side. With those two in mind, Mbemba looks well suited to this one, being a better athlete than Manquillo and much better in the air.
Merino should start this one after coming on as a sub on Saturday. His return could be massive – especially if in place of the ineffective Mo Diame, who did little once again on Saturday to suggest Rafa should call him up to the first-team anytime soon.
Hayden also returns from suspension. Whilst Shelvey and Merino are without doubt our most talented central midfielders, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rafa opted for Merino and Hayden in a bid to be much more energetic, combative and competitive than the laboured Shelvey and Diame were on Saturday?
Ritchie needs a much better game tonight. He was non existent at both ends for most of Saturday’s defeat, leaving Yedlin particularly exposed down our right.
Hopefully Murphy can continue to show promise on the other side, with the England U-21 winger being the only player in black and white who could come away from Watford with any sort of credit. He had a go, was the only player looking to make things happen and could be key on the counter with Atsu (our usual out ball away from home) ruled out once again.
Ahead of that lot, there’s a real case for Rafa to bring Perez back into the fold. In the 856 minutes he’s has played this season we’ve conceded 9 goals. One every 95 minutes. In the 314 minutes we’ve played without him we’ve conceded 8. One every 39 minutes.
Whether it’s work rate, tactical awareness, closing down or positioning, he seems to make us harder to break down and helps us press from the front. Rafa will be looking to get us back to our old resilient and disciplined self and with that in mind, I think Ayoze will be recalled.
Up top, Joselu should be out of the equation in this one for me. His limitations in front of goal have been pretty clear from the word go, but even the things Rafa has often said he did well (work rate, hold up play, aerial strength) have completely dissapeared in recent weeks. In the past, there was a slight argument for him starting, but I honestly can’t see a valid one right now.
That leaves Mitrovic and Gayle. Whilst I’d like to see the former given his chance, I think Gayle might get the nod. He was very quiet on Saturday, but did a good job at Old Trafford in our last away outing. He took his goal well and showed signs of the old Gayle as he buzzed about up top.
One thing I would say – West Brom are a big, physical side, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Rafa did end up opting for a big man up top to help cope with their clear threat from set pieces.
As previously mentioned, I think Matty Phillips is a player who, on his day, could cause us real problems – especially if he’s up against Manquillo. He’s direct, quick and pretty powerful; three traits I think Chancel Mbemba could cope with better than the aforementioned Spanird.
For what their central midfield lacks in flair, it makes up for in competitiveness, strength and know-how. The likes of Gareth Barry and Grzegorz Krychowiak are seasoned campaigners, whilst Jake Livermore is another ‘unit’ in midfield. With this in mind, might we see Rafa opt for Hayden and Merino?
Up top, Salomon Rondon is a powerhouse and no slouch either so he’ll be a real handful. The sort of physical threat that makes me wish Lascelles was fit. Next to him could be Jay Rodriguez. He’s not known for his physicality, but someone known to have a decent strike on him. We can’t give him space.
They have real height in the side, so, as highlighted earlier, we’ll need to be strong in the air and do our best to compete with them on that front. A good six or seven of their starting 11 are 6ft plus and the likes of Jonny Evans, Gareth McCauley and Ahmed Hegazy will be thrive from set pieces. Cheap free kicks will be important to avoid.
For an inside look into the opposition, see this week’s edition of ‘The Opposition Opinion’ where we’ve gained the thoughts of a Baggies fan we’ve been speaking to this week.
Newcastle – 14th (14 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 1 / Drawn: 0 / Lost: 4
West Brom – 17th –(10 pts) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 0 / Drawn: 2 / Lost: 3
Isaac Hayden is back from suspension for this one after picking up his 5th yellow of the season at Old Trafford. Mikel Merino could start after coming off from the bench against Watford on Saturday.
Benitez has confirmed Jamaal Lascelles (ankle) and Christian Atsu (thigh) and Paul Dummett (hamstring) will miss out once again.
West Brom will hand a late fitness test to Chris Brunt after he missed the 1-1 draw at Tottenham with a calf problem.
Nacer Chadli (hip) and James Morrison (Achilles) will miss out once again, with this game coming too soon for the midfield pair.
Newcastle United XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Lejeune, Clark, Manquillo – Merino, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez, Murphy – Gayle
West Brom XI – (4-4-2): Foster – Nyom, Evans, Hegazy, Gibbs – Phillips, Barry, Livermore, Field – Rodriguez, Rondon.
A real mixed bag in recent meetings. We’ve won 2, drawn 1 and lost 2 of our last five encounters as you can see above, however we’ve lost two of our last 3 at The Hawthorns. Time to even that up tonight..
A big big game for both clubs, this. It goes without saying we’ll need to be considerably better than we were on Saturday to get a result here.
West Brom looked in a real state a week or so ago, however they seemed to have had a cloud lifted from them now Pulis is gone, and they’ll be looking to build on Sunday’s promising 1-1 draw at Spurs – with one eye also on impressing potential new boss Alan Pardew.
The above doesn’t make tonight’s game any easier unfortunately, and while I believe we’ll be much better and show much more grit and discipline, I fancy this one to be a draw.
It’s pretty essential we don’t lose to stop the rot, so I expect to see a much more defensive minded and combative looking NUFC side.
Prediction: West Brom 1-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!