I’ll hold my hands up. I expected Liverpool to absolutely batter us and really didn’t see the players putting in that sort of performance for Steve Bruce.
I was pleasantly surprised by Wednesday night’s display, which was almost reminiscent of those organised, gutsy and energetic performances we saw from Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United.
Yes, we rode our luck at times and relied on some bad finishing and Karl Darlow brilliance to get us the point, but it was finally a team that was set up with a plan. It was backs against the walls at times, however we at least tried to pass the ball forward an get bodies into the box.
The question is, can we build on that and maintain this high-energy, risk/reward approach against Leicester this weekend?
It’s a fine balance. Get it wrong and a counter-attacking Foxes side will break our press and get in behind with ease, so we have to be aggressive and give them something to think about in attack.
The midweek draw and much improved display was a step in the right direction after an awful week for Steve Bruce, so we must not sit back and revert to being that passive, negative and nondescript side that made fans fall out of love with their team and fume at the manager over the majority of 2020.
- Allan Saint-Maximin – Still in France and a few weeks away after struggling with ‘long’ Covid.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Back in light training after recovering from Covid, but Bruce has confirmed this one will come too soon for the skipper.
- Ryan Fraser – Likely to miss most of the month with a groin injury.
- Isaac Hayden – Suspended after picking up his 5th yellow in the 0-0 draw vs Liverpool.
- Paul Dummett – Missed out in midweek due to ‘illness’ but has been spotted back in training so should return to the matchday squad.
Predicted line up
(5-4-1): Darlow – Yedlin, Fernandez, Schar, Clark, Ritchie – Almiron, S Longstaff, M Longstaff, Joelinton – Wilson.
OUT – Hayden and Murphy?
IN – Sean Longstaff and Almiron?
Martin Dubravka is fit again, but Karl Darlow won’t be losing that ‘No 1’ spot anytime soon after another heroic display in our last outing!
With Lascelles set to miss out again, Fernandez, Schar and Clark looks set to continue at centre-back. Some will ask for Bruce to revert back to a four-man defence, however the Foxes are devastating on the break if given too much space, so I see us continuing with a five.
At wing-back, the likes of Krafth, Manquillo and Murphy are all capable of filling in for Yedlin, yet the American was another who did brilliantly against Liverpool. He’s not played much this season so three games in 8 days could be a stretch, but his pace may be needed against Harvey Barnes if he’s deemed fit enough to go again.
On the left, Ritchie looked a bit more like his old self in Wednesday night’s draw. His lack of pace caught him out at times, meaning Lewis could be recalled against a Leicester side who could expose Ritchie on the break, however I’d like to bet Bruce will stick with the same back five that kept Salah, Mane and Firmino out a few days ago.
In midfield, Hayden’s one-game ban means his highly promising partnership with Matty Longstaff will be broken up. Their energy, pressing and superior fitness levels have been impressive and key to our recent success, so I don’t feel like Shelvey (who also has an ongoing groin issue) would be a wise Hayden replacement.
Hendrick is another who isn’t that mobile, so I can see Sean Longstaff coming back in and partnering his brother in the middle. He’s been sloppy of late, but his ability to press and cover plenty groin could make him the best Hayden replacement available to Bruce.
Out wide, I feel Murphy tired pretty early into the second half against Liverpool so could be replaced by Almiron, while our lack of fit wingers (ASM and Fraser remain sidelined) means Joelinton could be given another run out down the left.
Up top, Callum Wilson will surely get the nod and will be tasked to give us that platform to build on in attack after his movement, hold up play, pace and physicality caused Liverpool problems in midweek.
Our ‘ones to watch’ in Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City side:
Jamie Vardy – If we continue to press and play a little higher up the pitch as we did in our last outing, we must pick up his inevitable runs in behind – because he doesn’t often miss when he gets through on goal!
Timothy Castagne – The fit-again Belgian is a marauding full-back who played more like a winger when I watched Leicester earlier this season! A bit like Matt Doherty during his time at Wolves, he makes a habit of arriving late in the box. He and Justin (their other wing-back) are two to watch in wide areas, with Harvey Barnes (left wing) also a strong runner who tore us apart in the reverse fixture last season.
Ayoze Perez – The former Mag makes his return to Tyneside 18 months on from his £30m move to Leicester. He’s struggled for game time at times this season, but has been handed the odd start recently and knows a thing or two about scoring at St James’ Park!
James Maddison – It remains to be seen if he’s fit, but he and Youri Tielemans are the pass masters in this Leicester side and capable of unlocking the door. Also worth noting that his set piece delivery can be wicked, with him also capable from distance if given too much room to shoot.
Predicted Leicester XI: (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel – Castagne, Fofana, Evans, Justin – Ndidi, Tielemans – Perez, Maddison, Barnes – Vardy.
If we can show the same sort of organisation and intensity then you’d fancy our chances of another big result, but do we have enough left in the tank to do so against a Leicester side who not only come alive away from home but also rested several key players in their 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace earlier this week?
I don’t think we’ll be as passive as we’ve been in previous home games, however I do fear our pressing and energy levels without Hayden will drop by 10-20% – and that could prove costly against a devastating Leicester attack who come alive on the break.
Let’s hope Steve Bruce and the 11 he selects this Sunday prove me wrong once again and give us a positive start to 2021!
Prediction: Newcastle 1-2 Leicester