After three home games in a row, this marks out first trip away from St James’ Park since that 0-1 win at Southampton way back in March!
Our opponents Bournemouth are in desperate need of a win, slipping from a talented side capable of pushing the top 10 to a toothless bunch in serious danger of going down over the past year.
As for us, our Premier League status is all but secure for another season after 4 points in our first two league games back sent us 12 clear of the drop zone, however we’ll be hoping to see a reaction from the players after that abysmal attempt to beat Man City on Sunday.
Thankfully, Bruce will switch back to four-man defence and his ‘favoured’ 4-2-3-1 system, although his pre-match comments suggest rotation will be essential – not that this should be seen as a negative given how leggy we’ve looked since that 3-0 win over Sheffield United.
After all, it would be unrealistic and irresponsible for Bruce to play the same group of player 4 times in 11 days so soon after three months out.
(4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Fernandez, Rose – Bentaleb, Shelvey – Lazaro, Almiron, Joelinton – Gayle.
Bruce’s decision to not rotate against Villa backfired, with us flat that day and looking leggy on Sunday, however he’s hinted at big changes here.
In goal, Dubravka will almost certainly return between the sticks after Darlow’s rare start on Sunday (not that he did much wrong against City!)
Schar had a chance to show Bruce what he’s capable of in our cup quarter final, but failed miserably, giving away a stupid penalty and looking too casual throughout. As a result, we can expect to see Lascelles and Fernandez continue in a four-man defence should both be fit enough to play again.
At the back, the reliable Manquillo has played every minute since football returned and was run ragged by Sterling over the weekend, so I see Yedlin behind given a chance at right-back. Down the other side, Bruce may like to give Rose a rest, but with Dummett ineligible, Clark not yet fit and Willems back at Frankfurt, he’s our only option and has been improving after a slow start.
In midfield, Bruce dropped a big hint in his presser that Shelvey and Bentaleb could return, with both well rested after sitting out of Sunday’s game. Hayden is a key part of our engine room but surely won’t play twice in 4 days after only just being passed fit for the City game, while Sean Longstaff is in a similar boat – not to mention the fact he looked very rusty over the weekend, with that being his first start since February.
In attack, I don’t think Saint-Maximin should start based on Bruce’s comments, which revealed how he was struggling with fatigue after 3 starts in a week. With that in mind, I can see Joelinton starting on the left, Almiron continuing in the no.10 role – although he needs to up his game after two abject displays – and Lazaro playing wide right, with him due a chance to show what he can do and seeming a no-brainer to avoid risking Ritchie.
Up top, Carroll won’t be playing twice in 4 days, so I think Bruce will give Gayle a big chance to make up for that costly miss against Man City.
He’s getting into good positions, but his finishing must improve, with him fluffing several big openings either side of that substitute goal against Villa (remember how many he missed in that 0-1 win at Southampton before the break in play!?).
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Eddie Howe’s struggling Cherries side:
Dominic Solanke – The striker Howe looks set to call upon if Josh King fails to pass a late fitness test. He was tipped for big things a few years back, but has made very little impact since making the move from Liverpool. Let’s hope things stay that way here!
Nathan Ake – Bournemouth’s best player for me. A mobile centre-back who is surprisingly strong in the air for a player so slight.
David Brooks – The attacking midfielder has an eye for goal and has been badly missed during a recent long-term spell on the sidelines. With Fraser and Wilson ruled out, he could be the man they hope can unlock the door.
Phillip Billing – The giant midfielder gives the Cherries a physical presence in midfield but also loves a long range shot. A talented player who’ll look to get forward alongside the more defensive Jefferson Lerma.
Matt Ritchie has been deemed ‘touch and go’ for this one, while Bruce revealed his his pre-match presser that Allan Saint-Maximin was “extremely tired” the day after our 0-2 defeat to Man City.
Florian Lejeune will miss out once again, and could be missing for the season according to Bruce, while the game is expected to come too for Ciaran Clark.
Phillip Billing is expected to return, but the look set to be without two of their star attackers, with Callum Wilson suspended and Josh King a major doubt with an ankle injury.
Ryan Fraser will also miss out, with him refusing to sign an extension and all set to leave on a free this summer.
As far as their fight for survival is concerned, this should be Bournemouth’s cup final, with them facing Man Utd, Spurs, Leicester and Man City in four of their last six games after this one.
With that, and the fact they are currently in the bottom three, in mind, this is a HUGE game for them – yet they’re set to come into it without their three best attackers.
Our season is in danger of fizzling out and we don’t have much to fight for in comparison, but that could work in our favour, with Bournemouth in awful form, without key players and under huge pressure to win.
I think some of our fringe men will arrive fresh and with a point to prove here, so I fancy us to come away with a narrow win via goals from Dwight Gayle and big Jo!
After the disappointment of Sunday, let’s hope I’m right!
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-2 Newcastle