This game feels massive for me.
We’ve shown signs of real progress recently, but last Monday’s dismal display at Aston Villa was incredibly worrying – and we must both learn and react from that tonight.
We have a generous run of fixtures between now and Christmas and must make the most of that. For all our impressive results against Spurs, Man City and Man Utd, it’ll be games like tonight and at home to Southampton this weekend that define where we’re really at this season.
Win here and we’ll move into the top half and wonder what we could achieve if we kick on over the coming weeks, but lose and we’ll be worryingly close to that drop zone and going into Sunday’s clash with the Saints game looking over our shoulders.
Sheffield United have been incredible so far, with their energy and organisation too much for most to handle, however they’re still a newly promoted side and a team who, on paper, haven’t got the same level of quality we possess.
With that in mind, it would be absolutely inexcusable if we turned up, sat in and didn’t attempt to really hurt them as we did at Aston Villa.
Bruce may rotate slightly if he’s planning to prioritise Sunday’s game against Southampton – who are suddenly just a few points behind us after two wins in a couple of days – but I’d still be surprised if we made many changes.
Joelintlon is a concern from a goal threat perspective, but, when we’ve been good on the road this season, he’s been a pivotal presence in between ASM and Almiron.
It wouldn’t actually surprise me if Gayle got the nod, yet I question just how he fits into this team? If we’re not getting enough of the ball he’s a luxury player, with him feeding on good deliveries into the box – not long balls that need to be help up to create attacks.
Sean Longstaff will be knocking on the door. He didn’t feature last weekend and is fresh after a three-game ban, but would Bruce dare rest Shelvey or take out Hayden – the sort of player who could be key against a combative Sheffield United side.
At the back, Manquillo deserves to keep his place along with our three centre-backs. I’d argue Fabian Schar is too good to be sitting on the bench, however. No matter how well Fernandez, Clark and Dummett are playing, the Swiss international can give us that coolness and class on the ball which could be key at both ends of the pitch.
Considering we lacked quality in our last away outing at Villa, I’d be tempted to bring him in for Dummett, put Clark down the left, Fernandez in the centre and Schar on our right-hand side.
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Clark, Willems – Hayden, Shelvey – Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton.
Here’s a few key men to watch out for in Chris Wilder’s Sheffield Utd side:
Lys Mousset – The French striker has been outstanding whenever I’ve watched the Blades recently. Signed over the summer after a difficult spell with Bournemouth, but he’s showing exactly why Sheffield Utd paid £10m to make him their club record signing. Not only has he bagged 5 goals and 3 assists this season, he’s a handful and willing runner.
John Lundstram – The all action midfielder has been a revelation this season. Has 3 goals and 2 assists and is the one player in their engine room who’ll make bursting runs into the box on the break. One to watch for Jonjo Shelvey.
John Fleck – Their creative force in midfield. The diminutive midfielder is always looking to play that killer pass to set their willing forwards away on the counter attack.
Endo Stevens – The left wing-back may not look like an attacker, but he’ll bomb on and give Manquillo plenty to think about. It’ll be vital Miguel Almiron gives him something to think about at the other end as he’ll have the beating of him for pace.
Predicted Sheffield Utd (3-5-2): Henderson – Basham, Egan, O’Connell – Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens – McGoldrick, Mousset.
Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie remain on the sidelines, while Andy Carroll and DeAndre Yedlin are in contention to return. That said, it would be harsh if the latter came straight back in for Javier Manquillo; who was very good against City last weekend.
Based on Bruce’s comments it’ll come too soon for Florian Lejeune once again, however Fabian Schar will be pushing for a recall.
For the Blades, Chris Wilder has a fully fit squad for this one, with John Egan (calf) and Lys Mousset (hamstring) coming through unscathed during their 1-1 draw with Wolves at Molineux.
I’m waiting for Sheffield United to slip up, constantly wondering if this is the week they run out of steam, yet they’ve shown absolutely no signs of slacking so far.
With the fixtures now piling up, this could be the best time to play them, but we can’t take them lightly and must be ten times better than we were at Villa Park if we want to come away with a good result.
They’ll get in our faces, maintain a high intensity and get the ball forward quickly, so it’s up to us the match that and more.
Can we do that? Let’s hope so!
Prediction: Sheffield Utd 1-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!