If today’s task didn’t seem tough enough as it is, we now head into the game with a worrying lack of midfield options.
Shelvey has been ruled out, Ki is away at the Asian Cup and Diame a ‘major doubt’ with a hip problem, meaning we have just ONE senior central midfielder available – Isaac Hayden; a player who doesn’t even want to be here.
If Diame does miss out then Longstaff will almost certainly make his first Premier League start – unless Rafa think the ball playing Fabian Schar could play in a more advanced midfield role.
With this in mind, we expect today’s line up to be one of the following:
Predicted NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka– Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez, Ritchie – Longstaff, Hayden – Perez, Atsu – Rondon.
Five at the back and either Longstaff or Schar partnering the want-away Isaac Hayden in midfield? We’ve gone for Longstaff here, but I would not be surprised if Schar or Ritchie played centrally.
With our only two fit central midfielders being a player who wants out in Hayden and another who’s played just 17 minutes of top flight football in Longstaff, I’m not sure what else Rafa can do (unless he puts square pegs in round holes as mentioned above).
With Dummett out I expect Ritchie to come in as a left-wing back (although he was murdered the last time he played in this role at Chelsea so Manquillo could yet start), while Atsu and Perez look nailed on to play either side of Rondon given Kenedy is ineligible and Murphy failed to impress vs Blackburn.
A worrying team considering we’re so low on confidence and up against a side who’ve conceded just one goal in their last 8 home games – not to mention the fact they have a certain Eden Hazard in attack.