It is expected that Steve Bruce will have a fully fit squad to choose from for the first fixture back.
Sheffield United will be the visitors to St James’ Park in the match that was due to be played before the Covid-19 stoppage.
Below, we look at how we could line-up against the Blades, if Bruce sticks with the 4-2-3-1 formation used before the break:
This is the easiest choice for Bruce, as Martin Dubravka has arguably been out player of the season. The stoppage came at the perfect time for the goalkeeper as he was set to miss a period with a knee injury picked up against Southampton. However, the pandemic meant that he will not have to miss a single match.
According to statsbomb (data taken from fbref.com), Dubravka has faced shots with an accumulated post-shot expected goals (PSxG) value of 48.7. He has conceded just 41, one of which was an own goal. Therefore, his PSxG minus goals conceded is 8.7, which is the best of any Premier League goalkeeper this season. This underlines his quality and the value he has provided us with this season.
Javier Manquillo is set to be offered a new contract, according to the Athletic. He is the player that many will want to start at right-back. The Spaniard has been solid this season, averaging 2.9 ball recoveries per game and he provides a balanced option down that flank.
Before the break, Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez were the two starting centre-backs. Both were impressive in the Southampton match, helping the side to a valuable clean sheet. They have been developing a good relationship and there is no reason to change that for the Sheffield United match.
The start of his loan spell has been average, but Danny Rose is the best choice to start at left-back. The Tottenham loanee can contribute in both halves of the pitch. To get the best out of Allan Saint-Maximin on the left wing, Bruce needs a full-back that will overlap. Rose will also be hoping to impress to land a permanent move.
There is no need to alter the central midfield pair that started against Southampton. Jonjo Shelvey is one of Bruce’s favourite individuals, as he has the creative spark to unlock a defence. This will be crucial to making the new formation work.
Against Southampton, he had 101 touches of the ball and dictated the tempo from deep. During the contest, he made three key passes. He is also the team’s top scorer with five Premier League goals. Throughout this season, he has averaged 2.55 shot creating actions per ninety minutes. If he is fit, he needs to play.
Isaac Hayden complements Shelvey well, as he has the energy and defensive qualities to win the ball back in central areas. His height also allows him to compete in the air.
Despite the claims for Valentino Lazaro to start, it is likely that Bruce plays Matt Ritchie on the right against Sheffield United. A combination of his experience and leadership will be the reason for this decision. This season, he has averaged 3.27 shot creating actions per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, he has a high work rate and contributes defensively.
Allan Saint-Maximin is the player that all supporters are looking forward to watching following the restart. The lack of fitness initially could give him an advantage, as he has quick acceleration and looks to commit defenders. This season, he has averaged 4.4 dribbles per game, which is the third highest in the Premier League. There is more to come from the Frenchman and he will have confidence following his winning goal against Southampton before the break.
In the number ten role, Miguel Almiron will be preferred and Bruce will hope that he shows a more clinical edge in the final third. According to Understat, the Paraguayan has an expected goals total of 5.81 this season, more than any other Newcastle United player. However, he has scored only twice in the Premier League. He needs to be more clinical in the final third over the rest of the campaign.
This will be a difficult call for Bruce. Dwight Gayle showed his intelligent movement before the break, as he got into several promising positions, but failed to score once. Many will be hoping that he is given another chance.
However, Joelinton has scored a couple of times in the friendly matches behind closed doors. Although this isn’t the best litmus test, it will be more relatable to the matches coming up, without supporters in the stadium. He could thrive in the new environment and this feels like a fresh opportunity for the Brazilian. It would be surprising if Bruce doesn’t give him the first opportunity.
(4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Fernandez, Rose – Hayden, Shelvey – Ritchie, Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton: