Going into last weekend’s game with Burnley, things weren’t looking good at all for Newcastle United and Steve Bruce.
We collapsed at Arsenal and went down without a fight vs Palace – a game where we failed to threaten once against an out of sorts side, never mind score – meaning a change of approach was absolutely essential as the pressure on Bruce mounted.
Burnley then arrived at St James’ Park. A 0-0 draw and our 4th straight blank of the season left us leaving the stadium flat to say the least, but the 4-2-3-1 system used did show signs of promise, with us creating more chances and looking *slightly* more likely in the final third.
Tuesday’s FA Cup clash with West Brom then came along and we were MUCH better, with Joelinton thriving alongside three attacking midfielders and us playing some far more fluid and exciting attacking football as a result.
We made hard work of it in the end in true Newcastle United fashion, but 2-3 flattered West Brom in a game we fully deserved to win.
Bruce has vowed to stick with the same system at Southampton this weekend in a game we’re all desperate to win – knowing 3 points could all but end our relegation fears and end our barren run of 1 league win in 10.
It will be a test of our ability to get the balance right at both ends when using this 4-2-3-1 formation against a capable attacking side, but with our best attackers now fit, more confident and linking up well on Tuesday, this is our chance to pull clear at the bottom with a big win.
With our fixtures set to get tough after upcoming games against Southampton, Sheffield Utd, Bournemouth and West Ham, this is the time to make one big push towards securing Premier League safety.
(4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Rose – Hayden, Shelvey – Lazaro, Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton.
For the first time in a while, Steve Bruce is facing a positive selection dilemma, with several fit again and a few returning players putting in superb displays in midweek.
In goal, Dubravka will return after sitting it out at the Hawthorns, while Fernandez also seems likely to come back in following a well deserved rest in midweek.
With that in mind, he and Lascelles look set to continue at centre-back after their clean sheet vs Burnley.
Manquillo – who continues to do a very solid job whenever he plays – could continue at right-back if passed fit, but the fact he was ‘sore’ after starting twice in 4 days at West Brom makes me wonder if he’ll be protected here, meaning Yedlin could come in.
At left-back, Rose hasn’t looked like a player fit enough to play 3 games in 7 games, but Bruce seems unlikely to play Ritchie at left-back in a four-man defence?
In midfield, Sean Longstaff and Nabil Bentaleb didn’t do enough for me on Tuesday night to suggest they should be starting above Shelvey and Hayden. The latter was poor against Burnley, but his combative style is perhaps what we need alongside Shelvey – especially in a more attack-minded Newcastle side that needs a player to protect a back four that could be more exposed.
In attack, it’s anyone’s guess who Bruce goes with. If fit, it’s fair to say Almiron and Saint-Maximin are nailed on, but who starts up top and who plays wide right?
On the right-hand side Bruce must pick between Lazaro – who was superb in midweek – and Ritchie. I’d like to see Lazaro play again, believing his pace, movement and quick-thinking played a key role in us looking more fluid on at West Brom, but Ritchie is fresh after being rested.
Then it’s Joelinton or Gayle up top. The Brazilian was unselfish on Tuesday and brought the best out of his fellow attackers at the Hawthorns as a result, but Gayle looks more likely to score and arguably deserves another chance in the side after looking lively vs Burnley?
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Saints side:
Danny Ings – The former Liverpool striker has 15 league goals this season, having been in stunning form in front of goal for the Saints. A ruthless finisher who’ll be hungry to add to his tally here after scoring just once in his last 7. Shane Long is a nuisance and a player we often struggle to deal with, but stop Ings and we could stop Southampton in this one.
James Ward-Prowse – One of the best crossers of the ball in the league, with his delivery from set pieces and open play up there with De Bruyne and Alexander-Arnold on his day. More reason not to give away cheap free kicks or needless corners!
Moussa Djenepo – With star winger Nathan Redmond ruled out, either he or Sofiane Boufal could start to give the Saints some added flare in attack. Both are good dribblers, unpredictable and capable of the spectacular.
Saint-Maximin is ‘OK’ after starting at West Brom in midweek, while Manquillo is expected to be fit despite being ‘sore’ after Tuesday’s game.
Carroll looks set to miss out once again, with no return date set, along with Clark, Dummett and Willems – who are all out for the remainder of the season.
Atsu and Krafth are back in training so could return to the squad if Bruce selects them.
For the hosts, Danny Ings has been passed fit after failing to start their defeat at West Ham last weekend, but Nathan Redmond, Stuart Armstrong and Will Smallbone will all miss out.
Moussa Djenepo is available again and could start.
I think we’ll finally end our unwanted streak of 4 league games without a goal, but feel we could see the opposition get a bit more joy at the other end, with our new formation seeing us not only push up, but swap one centre-back out of the side in favour of an extra attacking midfielder.
I see no reason why we can’t outscore Southampton IF we play with the right intensity all over the pitch and go at them from the off, but have a feeling this one will be a score draw.
Prediction: Southampton 2-2 Newcastle