With the game just hours away and Steve Bruce hinting that he’ll have to make a few changes in yesterday’s press conference, it seems like a good time to guess how we’ll line up at Leeds tonight!
Keeping form, fitness, our hectic schedule and tonight’s opponents in mind, here’s the team I think Steve Bruce might just go with come 6pm:
Predicted NUFC XI (5-3-1-1): Darlow – Murphy, Hayden, Fernandez, Clark, Ritchie – Hendrick, S Longstaff, Almiron – Joelinton – Gayle.
OUT – Krafth, Lewis, Shelvey, Wilson?
IN – Fernandez, Murphy, Hendrick, Gayle?
This would require a host of changes and Bruce dropping the four-man defence he promised to stick with, but hear me out.
To begin with, I think he may just opt for a five-man defence given the attacking overload Leeds tend to come with. Not only that, Lewis and Krafth both struggled last weekend, and those capable of replacing them while Manquillo remains out (Murphy and Ritchie) are far more suited to playing at wing-back than they are in a flat back four while
So, I can see Fernandez returning now he’s back from Covid and think Hayden should be just about fit enough to continue in defence alongside Clark. Bruce said Hayden has been struggling with fatigue this week, but he won’t need to run too much in this role and will be needed given how good he was against West Brom.
In midfield, I think Sean Longstaff’s energy will be deemed key against such a high-intensity side, but reckon Shelvey may be rested for that exact reason. We’d miss his passing range, but I think Bruce may protect him ahead of crucial games against Fulham and Brentford in the next 6 days, not to mention the fact he may struggle to last the pace.
With that in mind, I can see Hendrick returning and Almiron playing in that slightly deeper role that saw his energy and pace be put to good use in recent results against Wolves and Everton. It’s not his preferred position, but his work rate defensively and frightening pace at the other end could cause Leeds problems.
At the top end of the pitch, I’ve gone with no Wilson. In an ideal world he’s start – of course he would – but can Bruce really start him FOUR times in 11 days after that recent hamstring injury? With Gayle back with a bang last weekend and having a brilliant record against Leeds, I think he’ll start.
As for Joelinton, he could play in that free role in between a three-man midfield and Gayle, allowing him to drive from deep and support Gayle on the counter along with the likes of Almiron and Murphy.
What team do you see Steve Bruce going with in a few hour’s time? Let us know!