After a week where takeover talk and transfer gossip well and truly took over, it’s nice to have what really matters back on Tyneside – an actual game of football!
We ended the window with three loan signings in Bentaleb, Lazaro and Rose – a trio of shrewd buys who will all add quality in weak areas – but there’s a feeling of frustration that we A) failed to sign a striker (our weakest area) and B) missed out on Bowen.
That said, I don’t think many expected us to bring in three this time last month – and those we’ve brought in certainly improve us.
Collecting 5 points in our last three against Wolves, Chelsea and Everton has been a brilliant return, taking us to 30 points over a period some feared we’ve come away with nothing, but today is a HUGE chance – to get back to winning ways at home and move within 7 points of that 40-point mark as early as possible.
It may be another false dawn, but any potential buyer will be far more inclined to buy is if we’re looking set to stay up – yet that could work the other way if we lose and other results leave us just 4 points away from the drop zone (we’re currently 7 clear).
Norwich may be bottom, but this will be a big test, with us often struggling to impose ourselves against teams we’re expected to beat. They beat us comfortably at Carrow Road, so hopefully the players are fired up and ready to get revenge come 3pm today.
In goal, Dubravka will return after being rested against Oxford last weekend. We’ve given him too much to do of late and he’s bailed us out on more than one occasion, so let’s hope he’s protected much better today.
In defence, the skipper will almost certainly be in the centre of a 3/5-man defence, while Clark (left) and Fernandez (right) seem ahead of Lejeune and Schar in the pecking order as of now. That said, the latter ball-playing duo could come into consideration in a game where we should be looking to hurt the opposition.
At wing-back, Yedlin is fit again – but Lazaro is available and could well start if Bruce has seen enough of him in training to suggest he’s match fit. On the other side, we now have Ritchie and Rose, however the latter is likely to be on the bench until he’s fully integrated into the squad.
In midfield, Bentaleb looks set to make his first league start, with his arrival all the more important now Shelvey’s been ruled out for a month. Hayden seems his most likely partner, with Sean Longstaff out of sorts and Matty still adapting to Premier League football. His energy and enthusiasm is brilliant, but we often get overrun in midfield when he starts.
Out wide, Almiron and Saint-Maximin look set to play either side of Joelinton – a striker who has no option but to perform now we failed to sign a striker and remain without Carroll, Gayle and Muto through injury.
After having two goals ruled out against Oxford, hopefully his newly bleached hair can give him some more luck in front of goal at St James’ Park!
Preferred NUFC XI – (3-4-2-1) – Dubravka – Schar, Lascelles, Clark – Lazaro, Bentaleb, Hayden, Ritchie – Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Daniel Farke’s Canaries side:
Teemu Pukki – Bagged two in Norwich’s 3-1 win over us back in August and was a constant thorn in Lascelles and Schar’s side that day. Great movement and doesn’t miss much when he gets his chance.
Emi Buendia – Outside the top 6, only Jack Grealish has created more chances from open play than the Argentinian. A hidden gem at Norwich and player who’ll likely secure a big move for himself if Norwich do go down.
Tim Krul – The Dutchman returns to St James’ Park and will get a great reception after his 12 years of service on Tyneside. A very good shot stopper on his day, but someone we should look to put pressure on if they try to play out from the back.
Grant Hanley – Another ex-Mag, but one Benitez axed as soon as we were promoted back to the Premier League. With first-choice centre-back Ben Godfrey suspended, it’ll be interesting to see how he copes.
Todd Cantwell – A left-sided midfielder who’s been very impressive in his debut season in the Premier League. Gets into good positions in the box and has scored more goals than any Newcastle player this season (6).
Max Aarons – A marauding right-back (and the cousin of Rolando!) who has been linked with a £25m move away after several competent displays in the top flight. Saint-Maximin will test him defensively, but the Frenchman must be watchful of his bursts forward at the other end.
Predicted Norwich XI – (4-2-3-1) Krul – Aarons, Zimmermann, Hanley, Byram – McLean, Tettet – Buendia, Duda, Cantwell – Pukki.
New boys Nabil Bentaleb, Valentino Lazaro and Danny Rose are all available and expected to be included in Steve Bruce’s squad.
Jonjo Shelvey is out for ‘at least a month’ with a new hamstring injury, while the game will come too soon for Andy Carroll, Javier Manquillo, Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto.
Elsewhere, Paul Dummett and Jetro Willems will both miss out after suffering season-ending injuries last month.
For the visitors, key attacking midfielders Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell have been passed fit, despite recent respective thigh and hamstring problems.
First-choice centre-back Ben Godfrey is suspended, while summer signing Ibrahim Amadou is fit again.
It would be nice to turn up today believing we’ll be breeze past the league’s bottom side, however we don’t seem to do comfortable wins!
They’ll attack and have most of the ball, but it’s key we expose their leaky defence and get the right balance when it comes to committing bodies forward.
Bruce admitted yesterday that takeover talk has been an unwanted distraction, so let’s hope we’re at it from the off.
I see Norwich getting a goal, but fancy our chances of outscoring them. If Saint-Maximin and Almiron are at it and the new signings make an immediate impact, I’m confident – but things are rarely that straight forward at NUFC!
Let’s hope today is the exception and we can enjoy a comfortable home win!
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Norwich