After a hectic international break full of UEFA Nations League fixtures and World Cup qualifiers over in South America, football finally returns to St James’ Park this weekend.
We beat Burnley 3-1 in a huge win for Steve Bruce last time out, and we’re back for another home game here – this time against a Man Utd side in dire straits, both on and off the pitch.
Their fans are up in arms about the lack of summer signings, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is under real pressure as they sit 16th in the table and their players are on the ropes following that horror show at Old Trafford last time out – a game that saw Spurs smash them 1-6!
After they emerged as one of the driving forces behind ‘Project Big Picture’ – or should I say ‘Project Power Grab’ – it really would be nice to get one over Man Utd this weekend.
Thank goodness that plan failed, although it’s still an absolute farce that we’ll have to pay £14.95 via PPV to watch this legally. I’m starting to wonder why I’m still paying for a season ticket and Sky Sports subscription…
Back to the game itself. We beat them in this fixture last season via a piece of Matty Longstaff magic, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it again this time around – especially when you consider their form and our new-look attack.
Steve Bruce has confirmed that everyone returning from international duty is ‘OK’, meaning it’s good news for Fabian Schar, Jamal Lewis, Miguel Almiron, Ryan Fraser, Emil Krafth and Jeff Hendrick.
Jamal Lascelles is also back in contention after returning to training, but the game will come too soon for Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark and Matty Longstaff – who are all set to play for the U-23’s on Monday.
Elsewhere, Martin Dubravka, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle remain out, while Sean Longstaff is sidelined through illness.
For the visitors, Anthony Martial is suspended, Edinson Cavani ineligible and Harry Maguire touch or go with a hamstring knock. Bruno Fernandes could also play, despite concerns he’d be forced to quarantine.
New left-back Alex Telles is in contention to make his debut, while Dutch midfielder Donny Van De Beek could make his first league start.
Predicted line up
Predicted NUFC XI (4-4-1-1): Darlow – Krafth, Lascelles, Fernandez, Lewis – Fraser, Shelvey, Hayden, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton – Wilson.
The only decision Bruce has to make in defence may be at centre-back. Does he bring Lascelles back in or keep faith in Schar – who did pretty well against Burnley before coming off with a shoulder issue.
I personally think Lascelles always starts if fit, so seem him coming back in, especially when Schar’s just played three games in 10 days for his country after a few months out.
Krafth will keep his place at right-back after a solid display against Burnley, and it sounds like Lewis will be OK – despite missing Northern Ireland’s final UEFA Nations League game earlier this week.
In midfield, Shelvey and Hayden seem nailed on. Hendrick isn’t a winger and I’d like to see Fraser come in – he looked very sharp for Scotland and scored in his last outing – but I can see Bruce sticking with the Irishman, especially when Man Utd could have Alex Telles and Marcus Rashford as a double-threat down their left.
In attack, Saint-Maximin should start down the left, Joelinton won’t lose his place after putting in one of his best displays in a black and white shirt against Burnley and will almost certainly play just behind top scorer Callum Wilson – who’ll be looking to add to his tally against a leaky Man Utd defence.
Here’s a few ones to watch in Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side:
Harry Maguire – The centre-back and Red Devils skipper is in a bad place right now and looked like a broken man after being sent off early in England’s 0-1 defeat to Denmark just a few days ago. He’s under huge pressure and Callum Wilson is a man in form. A bad mix for the man Steve Bruce signed at Hull!
Bruno Fernandes – If passed fit to play (there’s doubts around whether he’ll have to quarantine after being in the same camp as COVID-positive Cristiano Ronaldo), he’ll be the man they turn to. He’s been brilliant since his arrival in January, pulling the strings behind the front three and being involved in just about everything they do well in the final third.
Marcus Rashford – With Anthony Martial suspended and Edinson Cavani not yet eligible, it’ll be up to the England international to provide the firepower in the last line of attack. With him likely to operate down the left, it could be a big test for one of Krafth or Manquillo!
Predicted Burnley XI: (4-3-3): De Gea – Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles – Matic, Pogba, Fernandes – Rashford, Greenwood, James.
Based on form, fitness and momentum, we’ll never have a better chance to beat them – and I think we just might!
Several of our star men are well rested – not playing three games over the past 10 days like some Man Utd players – and we should be smelling blood based on their shocking display against Spurs last time out.
If Wilson and ASM can pick up from where they left off, we can cause this lot all sorts of problems. We will, however, have to be at it defensively, as they still have the quality to hurt us – even without a few key men in attack.
Let’s set up to have a go and put pressure on their shaky defence and feeble midfield from the off. The OGS honeymoon period is over and they’ve shown in the last two league games how vulnerable they are.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Man Utd