What a difference a week makes.
It was disappointing to go out the cup on Wednesday night (although our fringe men competed well against a full strength Leicester side), however it was just this time last week that we had no hope and were dreading a hammering at Spurs.
The performance at Tottenham was outstanding and a total contrast to the one we put in at Norwich two weeks ago in just about every department.
A week on and there’s been a bit of pressure taken off Bruce’s shoulders and a slightly more positive feel around St James’ Park aftr weeks of doom and gloom. That said, it won’t take long for things to turn sour if a pointless Watford side come away with their first win of the season on Saturday.
We have reasons to be hopeful after that stunning win at Spurs and positive performance in the cup on Wednesday, but we are looking more like Steve Bruce’s black and blue army with all the injuries that are now mounting up, with several first-team players likely to miss this one.
The starting line up for this one should’ve been predictable after the 1-0 win at Spurs, but we’ve picked up a few key injuries and untimely knocks since then.
Ritchie is out for two months, Saint-Maximin is set to miss ‘3-5’ weeks and the involvement of Willems (hamstring), Krafth (thigh) and Almiron (ankle) will be dependent on how they come through training today according to Steve Bruce.
If all of Ritchie, Willems and Krafth miss out, we could see Paul Dummett play at left wing-back, with Manquillo seeming nailed on down the right-hand side?
Moving Dummett out to wing-back would be far from ideal, but Federico Fernandez was outstanding against Leicester so looks more than capable of filling the gap he’d leave at centre-back. That said, if Willems is deemed fit enough to start – and I think he’ll make it after he was spotted training on Friday – then I full expect the back three to remain the same, with the Dutchman coming in for Ritchie at left wing-back.
Elsewhere, Hayden and Longstaff seem nailed on to continue their two-man partnership that worked so well at Spurs, while Atsu and Joelinton will be looking to build on their positive performances last weekend in attack. Hopefully Almiron pulls through, or we could be forced into playing Muto out wide or a formation change.
Preferred NUFC XI – (3-4-2-1) – Dubravka – Schar, Lascelles, Dummett – Manquillo, Hayden, Longstaff, Willems – Almiron, Atsu – Joelinton.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in Javi Gracia’s Watford side:
Gerard Deulofeu – The Spanish winger is a bit of an enigma. He’s unplayable on his day but sometimes goes missing and can look a little lazy / selfish in his work on and off the ball. Hopefully we see the Deulofeu that fizzled out at Everton and not the player that made Barcelona resign him 2 years ago.
Abdoulaye Doucoure – One of the best midfielders outside the top 6 and a player Everton were bidding £40m to sign over the summer. He’s got an impressive engine and breaks forward well. Hayden and Longstaff will need to be on their game to win the midfield battle.
Will Hughes – The former Derby man seems to play in more of an attacking role from the right-hand side these days, despite being a central midfielder for the vast majority of his career before Watford. He’ll drift in and make some good forward runs into the box, so he’s one we’ll have to keep an eye on.
Ismalia Sarr – The Senegalese winger became their club record signing over the summer and is a serious talent. He started and scored in their 3-0 cup win in midweek and could feature in this one. He’ll be one to watch, with his blistering pace and dribbling devastating on his day.
Predicted Watford XI – (4-4-2): Foster – Janmaat, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas – Hughes, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra – Deulofeu, Gray.
Joelinton is fit, but Matt Ritchie has been ruled out for TWO months with ankle ligament damage, Saint-Maximin will be missing for ‘3-5 weeks’ with a grade 1 hamstring tear and Miguel Almiron (ankle), Jetro Willems (hamstring) and Emil Krafth (thigh) will face late fitness tests.
Andy Carroll (ankle), Dwight Gayle (calf), DeAndre Yedlin (aroin), and Florian Lejeune (ACL) will all miss out once again, but the American is back in training and edging closer.
For Watford, club captain Troy Deeney has been ruled out after knee surgery.
£30m man Ismalia Sarr and Daryl Janmaat are pushing for starts after impressing in their 3-0 Carabao Cup win over Coventry in midweek.
Watford have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 19 games – and that came against League One side Coventry in the cup.
They’ve started the new league season with three straight defeats and manager Javi Gracia is under real pressure to get a result here, so it’s vital we get at them from the off and put in the same shift we did in that win over Spurs last weekend.
A win would be huge and could turn what had seemed a nightmare start into a positive one four games in, but we must not underestimate this talented Watford side desperate for their first 3 points of the season.
Heart says 2-1 Newcastle, but my head tells me 1-1.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Watford
Howay the lads!