With several key players carrying knocks and a few long-term absentees not yet fit, it’s fair to say there’ll be big changes ahead of tomorrow’s Carabao Cup clash with Leicester.
Saint-Maximin has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, Joelinton (groin), Lascelles (calf), Almiron (ankle), Schar and Atsu are major doubts and the game also comes too soon for Carroll, Gayle, Yedlin and Lejeune.
Not only that, I really can’t see Bruce starting Sean Longstaff just a few days on from his huge shift at Spurs, with him clearly trying to protect the midfielder who’s not long returned from a serious knee injury.
With this in mind, here’s SEVEN players I expect to start at St James’ Park tomorrow night:
Federico Fernandez – With Lascelles deemed a ‘major doubt’ and Lejeune still out, I fully expect the Argentine to start this one. He replaced the skipper late in the game on Sunday and did a solid job.
Ciaran Clark – If we continue to play three centre-backs here, he looks very likely to play, with Schar rated a ‘doubt’. The Irish centre-back played a few times over pre-season but hasn’t featured since, so I can see Bruce giving him a rare start here.
Jetro Willems – This feels like the perfect chance to give the Dutchman his first start at left wing-back. Not only will he want to make up for that error against Arsenal on his first appearance a few weeks ago, Ritchie ran himself into the ground on Sunday and may need a rest. With several new signings unlikely to play, I’d be surprised if Bruce didn’t start the Frankfurt loanee.
Javier Manquillo – He did OK against Arsenal on the opening day and was impressive over pre-season. He’s lost his place to Krafth over the last two games (and some believe that was slightly unfair), but the Swede may get a rest here, giving Manquillo another chance to impress.
Matty Longstaff – Bruce may be tempted to go with Hayden or give Ki another run out, but the Chronicle did reveal last week that there was a ‘strong chance’ the 19-year-old was handed his competitive debut for the club in this one. Bruce seems to be a big fan of him and, based on his impressive showings over pre-season, you can see why. He’s not been loaned out, so surely these are the sort of games he gets a chance in?
Jonjo Shelvey – He was dropped on Sunday, and you can see why based on how well Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden did in a two-man midfield, however I fully expect him to start in this one. He scored a good goal in the defeat at Norwich but didn’t even come on from the bench on Sunday, so he seems nailed on to return here.
Yoshinori Muto – With Joelinton, Carroll, Gayle and Saint-Maximin all set to miss out, we haven’t got much choice but to start Muto – although I believe he’s earned a chance based on his lively displays over pre-season. That said, we must play him in a system that gives him support, with him not able to play the lone striker role as Joelinton did on Sunday.
The likes of Darlow and Ki will also be hoping for starts, while it’s also worth noting that the likes of Colback, Aarons and Saivet have all trained today and are eligible to play – despite the fact they weren’t included in Bruce’s 25-man Premier League squad.