The defeat to Everton was a funny one. We’ve played worse and won this season, yet there’s been a lingering feeling that a result like this was coming. After all, injuries, a thin squad and getting away with some poor performances can only keep you winning for so long?
Bruce is doing a good job, however, and this will be a game he must pick his players up for, with a ruthless Leicester City likely to be rampant if we’re anywhere below our best.
Everton inflicted our first loss at St James’ since the opening day of the season, but hopefully we can stay organised and look much more ‘at it’ in all areas against a Leicester side who’ll be confident and well rested after several key players sat out their 1-2 win at West Ham on Saturday.
One area we’re struggling in (for once) coming into this one is at centre-back. Lascelles, Clark and Dummett look set to miss out, and Florian Lejeune looked out on his feet over the weekend, struggling badly after 2 games in 48 hours.
I see the Frenchman being rested, meaning Bruce may only have Fernandez and Schar fit for this one – and even the latter is a slight concern after limping off against Everton. With that in mind, might we have to return to a back four here?
That would allow us to at least have a few more bodies in forward areas. I can see Atsu playing with Bruce likely to rotate again. He and Almiron could play out wide, meaning Joelinton would then play off the striker; which could be Gayle if Carroll isn’t deemed ready to start two games in 5 days.
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-1-2) – Dubravka – Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Clark, Willems – Hayden, Shelvey – Almiron – Joelinton, Carroll.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Brendan Rodgers’ side:
Jamie Vardy – With him currently the league’s top scorer on 17 goals, it’s fair to say this one goes without saying. Everton hurt us with smart runs in behind and in the channels over the weekend, so we’ll need to improve in that area if we’re to keep him quiet. A constant threat on the shoulder and devastating in front of goal when he gets half a chance.
James Maddison – The Foxes’ midfield maestro and a brilliant technician, being capable of creating from corners or scoring from free kicks. Has 5 goals and 5 assists this season and will be pulling the strings alongside Youri Tielemans in a bid to release Vardy.
Caglar Soyuncu – Leicester fans (and most football fans) wondered how they’d cope after ‘failing to replace’ Harry Maguire over the summer, but they look to have found their ‘Turkish Puyol’ in Soyuncu. He’s been outstanding, reading the game brilliantly, aggressive off the ball and cool as a cucumber on it.
Ricardo Perreira – The Portuguese right-back looks a top player and is only getting better. He and Ben Chilwell act as wingers at times, giving them real energy and quality in wide areas.
Predicted Leicester XI – (4-1-4-1) Schmeichel – Perreira, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell – Ndidi – Perez, Tielemans, Maddison, Barnes – Vardy.
It sounds like most of the recently injured players won’t return for this one based on Bruce’s pre-match comments, meaning Ciaran Clark and Paul Dummett could miss out once again.
Florian Lejeune also looked shattered on Saturday, so I expect him to be rested, meaning we may be struggling to stick with our usual formation and field three centre-backs.
Schar and Joelinton limped off over the weekend, but Bruce’s latest comments suggest they may be ok.
Once again, the game will come too soon for Allan Saint-Maximin (hamstring), Jamaal Lascelles (knee) and Matt Ritchie (ankle).
For the visitors, big guns Vardy, Maddison, Soyuncu, Perreira and Chilwell all look set to return after being rested at West Ham over the weekend.
We’re already up against it playing the league’s second best side on current standings, but the fact we’ll be missing a few key players and they’ll be welcoming several back after full rests over the weekend leaves me feeling pretty fearful ahead of this one.
I think we’ll have our moments, but with they move the ball quickly, don’t give much away at the back and can be devastating up top with Maddison’s creativity and Vardy’s pace and lethal finishing in front of goal.
I reckon they’ll have too much for us, but what a great start to 2020 it would be if Bruce and the boys proved me wrong!
Prediction:Newcastle 1-3 Leicester