Tuesday’s win at West Brom was the boost everyone needed, but we must now kick on in the league – with us creeping dangerously close to the drop zone after 1 win in 10 and 4 blanks on the spin.
Today we travel to Southampton, and Bruce has a few welcome selection dilemmas, with Joelinton and Gayle battling it out up top and Lazaro now threatening to keep Ritchie out of the side after his impressive display in midweek.
Saint-Maximin has been passed fit to play, but Manquillo is a slight doubt – with Bruce stating he was ‘sore’ having played every minute of our last two games after 6 weeks out.
With form, fitness and Steve Bruce’s pre-match comments in mind, here’s the side I can see Bruce going with come 3pm this afternoon:
(4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Fernandez, Rose – Hayden, Shelvey – Lazaro, Almiron, Saint-Maximn – Joelinton.
OUT – Darlow, Schar, Manquillo, Bentaleb, S Longstaff.
IN – Dubravka, Fernandez, Yedlin, Hayden, Shelvey.
Dubravka is almost certain to come in after being rested in midweek, while the reliable Fernandez seems likely to return given he and Lascelles kept a clean sheet in their last league game together.
At right-back, Manquillo is our most reliable option and someone you’d want starting if fully fit, but it sounds like it may be a risk to play him 3 times in a week – meaning Yedlin could well come in.
In midfield, Shelvey will return, while Hayden could well join him after Sean Longstaff and Nabil Bentaleb failed to grab their chance with both hands on Tuesday.
Then to the final 4 places in the side, which seems to be the most difficult area to predict now we’ve switched to a 4-2-3-1.
I’d have expected Ritchie and Gayle to come back in given both were rested in midweek, but our positive performance at West Brom may leave Bruce feeling reluctant to change it up?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Gayle started – he looked lively against Burnley last weekend – but I don’t think Bruce can justify dropping Lazaro after his pace, movement and quick thinking was key to our fluidity in the final third last time out.
How do you see us lining up?