Last weekend arguably summed up Steve Bruce’s time on Tyneside. It was pretty awful to watch and we weren’t really sure what the plan was, yet we came away with a decent result after riding our luck and scoring late on.
On the plus side, we looked much better defensively at Wolves (although you’d hope we would with so many men camped in our own half), but left Callum Wilson far too isolated and barely posed a threat all afternoon.
This weekend we come up against an Everton side top of the Premier League table – yet they’re set to be without several star players, with Rodriguez ruled out, Richarlison and Digne suspended and club captain Coleman also missing.
The visitors will be keen to get back on track after losing for the first time last weekend, but we’ll never get a better chance to beat them this season.
The question is, will Bruce set up to have a go and take the game to a depleted Toffees side, or will he sit back and pay Carlo Ancelotti’s side too much respect as we did against Man Utd a few weeks ago?
Jamaal Lascelles is a ‘major’ doubt after picking up a foot injury at Wolves, Jonjo Shelvey is set for ‘3-4 weeks’ on the sidelines after a hernia operation, but the good news is Isaac Hayden is fit to start after missing out at Molineux.
Sean Longstaff and Matty Longstaff have both been declared fit, while Paul Dummett and Ciaran Clark could come into contention given Lascelles is likely to miss out.
Elsewhere, Martin Dubravka, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are long-term absentees and remain out.
The visitors will be without several first team players, with James Rodriguez and Seamus Coleman injured and Richarlison and Lucas Digne suspended.
Predicted line up
Predicted NUFC XI (5-3-1-1): Darlow – Murphy, Schar, Fede, Clark, Lewis – Hendrick, Hayden, Almiron – ASM – Wilson.
It’s tough to predict what formation Steve Bruce will go with on Sunday. After all, we’ve played FIVE different systems in our opening six games so far!
Bruce had promised to ditch Rafa’s old formation and had been opting for a four-man defence, but last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Wolves saw us line up with five at the back.
I see us sticking with that system here. I’m not convinced it’s the way forward, but with us facing a depleted yet table-topping Everton, I see Bruce playing it safe.
In front of Darlow, I can see Clark coming in for Lascelles now he’s fit again, with the Irishman on the left, Fernandez through the middle and Schar operating as our right-sided centre-back.
Based on Bruce’s recent logic, Murphy will be undroppable and I can see him being given another shot at right wing-back – and rightly so – with Lewis down the left wing.
Everton are weakened in attack, but their midfield three of Doucoure, Allan and Gomes is very strong, so I don’t see Bruce playing two wingers either side of one central midfielder this time. With that in mind, I can see Hayden coming in for Fraser, with Almiron left of centre to support Lewis and Hendrick right of centre to help out Murphy.
In attack, Saint-Maximin could then continue in the free-role just behind Wilson, however we’ll need to see both wing backs get much further up the pitch and Almiron or Hendrick join attacks if we’re to get players closer to Wilson – who was horribly isolated for most of last weekend’s 1-1 draw.
Here’s a few ones to watch in Carlo Ancelotti’s side:
Dominic Calvert-Lewin – No Premier League striker has scored more goals than him since Carlo Ancelotti took charge of the Toffees. Digne and Rodriguez’s could strip him of service, but he’s surprisingly quick and mobile for a big man. Containing him could be half the battle here.
Niels Nkounkou – A good mate of mine is a big Everton fan, and he’s been very impressed by what he’s seen of the left-back, praising his power, pace and quality on the ball. With Digne suspended, the 19-year-old Frenchman is expected to start and will be a big ‘one to watch’.
Allan – He won’t pose a threat in the final third, but the tenacious Brazilian has been brilliant at breaking up the play so far this season. It’ll be interesting to see how he protects that Everton back four when ASM is running at him!
Ben Godfrey – Worth noting that the former Norwich centre-back was forced to play at right-back in Coleman’s absence last weekend and struggled at Southampton as a result. If we can get Saint-Maximin running at him we could be in business down that left-hand side.
Jordan Pickford – After making error after error so far this season, he’ll be in the spotlight once again this weekend. An erratic goalkeeper who plays like he’s downed 12 cans of Red Bull before kick off – let’s hope he has another stinker on Sunday!
Predicted Everton XI: (4-3-3): Pickford – Godfrey, Mina, Keane, Nkounkou – Doucoure, Allan, Gomes – Rodriguez, Calvert-Lewin, Bernard.
Make no mistake, if Everton had their strongest 11 fit and available for this one I’d fully expect a convincing away win. But they don’t, and we must take full advantage.
Sit back and pay them too much respect and they’ll eventually wear us down, with Calvert-Lewin likely to cause us bother if we allow easy service into him, however there’s a game to be won here if we get the balance right, get into them from the off, commit bodies forward at the right time and put pressure on an error-prone Pickford.
I’d be pleasantly surprised if we outscored them and think there’ll be some sort of reaction from them after that dismal display at Southampton, however I can see picking up another point here.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Everton