If this had been a normal matchday where our next game was a week away and we weren’t on the brink of an FA Cup quarter final, Steve Bruce would have every right to name an unchanged side tonight.
After all, the 11 who started in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Sheffield United all looked fit, sharp and fully motivated.
That said, with the rate of injury at an all-time high following the hectic return of football after several months away, Bruce will be pondering changes – especially when our biggest game of the season awaits on Sunday.
With him hinting at rotation earlier this week, here’s FIVE players who might come into contention tonight after missing out last Sunday:
Many Mags believe the Swiss international is our most talented centre-back, however he’s lost his place in the side since we moved to a four-man defence.
He’ll do well to earn his place back after Lascelles and Fernandez have helped us to three clean sheets on the spin, but he’s a more than capable option Bruce could turn to if he’s keen to mix it up.
With Javier Manquillo now Steve Bruce’s first choice option at right-back (and rightly so after several rock solid displays), I wonder if he’ll be saved for a potential duel with Raheem Sterling on Sunday?
Yedlin provides capable cover and pace to burn if a leggy Aston Villa are struggling physically from 3 games in 7 days, although we’ll have to hope he copes with Jack Grealish better this time should he get the nod.
The Algerian has looked a little rusty since completing a January loan move from Schalke, so he hasn’t got long left to impress if he wants to convince the club to sign him permanently.
With Shelvey and Hayden needing to be fresh and at their best if we’re to compete with Man City on Sunday, I can see Bruce giving the 25-year-old a big chance to impress from the off tonight.
The Inter Milan loanee was superb in his last start, scoring one and linking up brilliantly in our 3-2 win at West Brom, however he’s yet to start in our two league games that have followed.
Bruce may be reluctant to leave our one of Ritchie or Saint-Maximin after their influential displays over the weekend, but Lazaro is another talented loanee who hasn’t got long left to prove he’s worth signing on a permanent deal.
I’d like to see him start tonight – especially when Saint-Maximin should probably be wrapped in cotton wool given he’s our biggest hope of hurting Man City on Sunday.
Unless he’s moved out wide or played in a second striker role, it’s hard to see Bruce leaving Joelinton out after his confidence-boosting goal on Sunday.
That said, Andy Carroll is fit again and set for a new one-year deal, while Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto are also options available to us should Bruce freshen it up.
Who knows if Carroll is deemed fit enough to start, but I can see him getting a longer run out here after his late cameo against Sheffield Utd.