Steve Bruce has vowed to take cup competitions seriously, but he won’t be able to field anything like a full strength side for our Carabao Cup clash with Leicester tonight.
Long-term absentees Lejeune, Carroll, Gayle and Yedlin have already been ruled out and Lascelles, Schar, Almiron, Atsu and Joelinton have all picked up knocks from Sunday’s win at Spurs, while Saint-Maximin is set for another few weeks on the sidelines after aggravating a recent hamstring strain.
The likes of Schar or Almiron may pull through and pass late fitness checks, but Bruce will be unlikely to take any big risk ahead of Saturday’s big league game at home against Watford.
Then you have the fact Bruce has been protecting Sean Longstaff following his lengthly spell on the sidelines, meaning he’s likely to be rested tonight, while several fringe players and the odd youngster may be given their big chance to impress.
With all of the above in mind, here’s the team I believe could start against Leicester tonight:
(3-4-2-1): Darlow – Fernandez, Clark, Dummett – Manquillo, M.Longstaff, Shelvey, Willems – Ritchie, Almiron – Muto.
It would not surprise me if Almiron isn’t risked, but it’s hard to know who else can play in attack?!
There’s Aarons, but the Chronicle report today that Bruce will NOT include any of the eligible players who weren’t included in his 25-man squad – despite the fact they’re able to play in the Carabao Cup.
In goal, this is one of few chances for Darlow to get game time, so I see him getting his chance. Dubravka is a safer pair of hands, but Bruce may want to give Darlow a chance given he’s the man who we’d be relying on if the Slovakian ever got injured.
At centre-back, Schar and Lascelles have knocks and Lejeune is still out, so it makes sense for Fernandez and Clark to earn rare starts. Dummett is then one of few fully fit centre-backs available to Bruce, so he could complete a three-man defence.
At full-back, Manquillo deserves a recall, with Krafth also earning a rest after a huge shift at Spurs. On the other side, Ritchie seems likely to be played higher up the pitch in this one given our total lack of fit attackers, so I can see Willems getting his first start at left wing-back.
In the middle of midfield, Shelvey is very likely to start after missing out at Spurs, while Matty Longstaff is being strongly tipped to make his debut. They could well be the midfield duo, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Bruce opts for a 3-5-2 and plays one of Ki or Hayden alongside M.Longstaff and Shelvey.
In attack, Muto is nailed on to start. He deserves a chance, but he’s also the only fit striker we have for this one! Almiron may well not be risked, but I can see he and Ritchie playing in wide areas either side of Muto.
If Almiron doesn’t make it, could Aarons come in? Time will tell!