It has been a disappointing few weeks in terms of results. Steve Bruce has started to see the gap to the bottom three slowly eradicate, while a full-strength team was knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Brentford.
Despite this, there is still a healthy gap to the relegation zone and there have been some positives to take into 2021. The emergence of Matty Longstaff and DeAndre Yedlin as regulars in the first-team have provided qualities that we have been missing, namely energy and pace.
The selection of the latter has been a particular surprise. It is clear that the decision was made out of necessity, rather than choice, due to Javier Manquillo suffering from Covid-19. The Spaniard hasn’t featured since the outbreak took hold of the squad. Meanwhile, Emil Krafth is another that has suffered from the virus. The right-back position was one of weakness already, but it has become an even bigger issue due to the absences of Manquillo and Krafth.
Yedlin almost missed out on Steve Bruce’s 25-man Premier League squad, with the American nearly departing during the summer. A move failed to materialise and he was given another opportunity at St James’ Park, albeit initially as a back-up member of the squad. He has now started four Premier League matches and shown promising signs that suggest he could still have a future at the club.
It was the recent performance against Liverpool that was most impressive, with him playing a key part in the clean sheet. During the match, he made two tackles, two interceptions and six clearances.
His one-on-one defending has improved since he was last given a run in the team, as he seems less rash in the tackle and more composed when confronted on the pitch. There seems to have been a mentality change and less problems are being caused down his side of the pitch.
In attack, he seems to offer more than the more defensively-reliable Manquillo, with an average of 1.52 shot creating actions per ninety minutes. This is slightly higher than the Spaniard’s 0.98 per ninety minutes. One criticism of Yedlin would be his decision making and quality of final ball when he does get into the attacking half. However, there is no doubting that he is offering an outlet that we have previously missed. His pace also allows him to run in behind and keeps the opposition wide players honest.
It has only been a small sample size since Yedlin’s re-emergence in the starting eleven, but the signs are encouraging. With only six months remaining on his current contract, the club have a decision to make. There are reports of interest from Turkey and there will be suitors from the MLS again if his contract was to expire, with one unnamed American side said to have already made an offer.
If he can continue to perform like he has been, there could be a case to be made for a contract extension. That would have seemed a million miles away a few weeks ago, but he is currently a member of our starting eleven. As such, it would suggest he has something to offer, even if he isn’t good enough to be a starter for the long-term.
Right-back remains a problem position for the club, as we need a more reliable starter that can contribute in both halves of the pitch. In the interim, it could be that Yedlin is the player to start.