A big game for Steve Bruce at St James’ Park tonight, with fans hoping to see a much improved performance against a struggling Clarets side who’ve lost every game so far this season.
With form, fitness and the expectation to attack in mind, here’s the side I can see starting at St James’ Park today:
Predicted NUFC XI (4-2-3-1): Darlow – Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Lewis – Hayden, Shelvey – Saint-Maximin, Almiron, Joeinton, Wilson.
OUT – Lascelles, Ritchie, Hendrick?
IN – Schar, Lewis, Saint-Maximin?
For me there’s FOUR dilemmas for Steve Bruce here that are hard to predict:
- Does he throw Schar straight back into a four-man defence that he looked poor in post lockdown if Lascelles isn’t fit – or will he play Hayden at CB again?
- He may want to play Hendrick against his former club, but where does he fit in? Playing him on the right would be negative for me, although I don’t know if he gets in ahead of Hayden or Shelvey just yet in the middle.
- Should he put Saint-Maximin straight back into the side or go with Fraser?
- Does he keep faith in Joelinton?
If Lascelles starts if he turns out to be OK, but with Bruce confirming he’s a doubt and Schar now fit again and featuring at Newport, the Swiss star looks like our only option to come in. Hayden played at the back at Spurs, but he’s not a centre-back and Bruce may want his combativeness in the middle of the park against a physical Burnley side.
So, Hayden will likely start alongside Shelvey – although there’ll be calls for Hendrick to play in his preferred position against his former club.
There’s been calls for Shelvey to be dropped, which I understand after a few too many passive displays, but I think we’d soon regret that against a side like Burnley. After all, who would be picking the passes and getting good balls into our front four if it was two of Hendrick, Hayden and Sean Longstaff?
To fit in Hendrick – who will want to start against his former club – Bruce could easily play him on the right-hand side as he did at West Ham, however I feel Wilson and Almiron are nailed on to start, as is Saint-Maximin when he’s fit – and I don’t see how we can leave Joelinton out after he was our best outfield player at Spurs and helped change the game when coming on from the bench in another improved outing at Newport.
I may be wrong and he could play it safe, but surely Bruce knows he has to go for it against Burnley to help win over his doubters, meaning Hendrick’s role on the right could be handed to a more forward-thinking and explosive attacker?
Ryan Fraser is another option that’s barely been mentioned here, however he played the full 90 in midweek and is still a bit rusty for me.
How do you see us setting up tonight folks?