After watching us collapse to the ground like a side who’d just been relegated when the full time whistle went at Aston Villa, we’d better ‘roll our sleeves up’ and ‘dust ourselves down’ better than ever before if we’re going to save Bruce’s bacon here.
The question is, has the NUFC boss now lost the dressing room? They didn’t look like they were playing for him (again) over the weekend and looked like a bunch of broken men throughout Saturday night’s latest defeat.
He’s certainly lost the fanbase via his awful brand of football, negative tactics, pathetic excuses and refusal to accept criticism, but another dismal display and heavy defeat to Leeds and it may be that he loses his job.
Bielsa’s side have lost all of their last three and have failed to score since the turn of the year, however they’ll be fancying their chances here against a Newcastle side without a win in TEN.
Not only that, we’ve scored just ONE goal from open play since they put five past us in that Elland Road massacre on December 16th, making our struggles in front of goal far more of a long-term concern.
Graeme Jones may be appointed by the time this one kicks off at 6pm on Tuesday, but lose this one badly and Bruce must SURELY be on the brink.
- Fernandez, Clark & Dummett – The defensive trio have all been declared injured for this one, leaving Schar and Lascelles as our only fit CB’s. To think we allowed Lejeune to join Alaves before signing a replacement…
- Allan Saint-Maximin – Bruce has all but confirmed that he’ll be restricted to another cameo role from the bench, with him still stepping up his recovery from COVID after coming on for 25 minutes at Villa.
- Javier Manquillo – Rated as ’50-50′ for this one after coming off with a knock in Saturday night’s 2-0 defeat.
- DeAndre Yedlin – Another who looks likely to miss out, this time via a visa issue that is yet to be resolved.
For the hosts, star man Kalvin Phillips is back from a one-game ban and goalkeeper Illan Meslier is set to return, but German international centre-back Robin Kock (knee) will miss out once again.
Predicted line up
(5-2-2-1): Dubravka – Murphy, Hayden, Lascelles, Schar, Ritchie – M Longstaff, S Longstaff – Almiron, Fraser – Wilson.
OUT – Darlow, Manquillo, Lewis, Shelvey, Hendrick and Carroll?
IN – Dubravka, Murphy, Ritchie, M Longstaff, S Longstaff and Fraser?
Yes, that’s right. Another change in formation. Another game where there’s wholesale changes and a different midfield combo. It’s not the team I think is best equipped to beat Leeds, but it’s what seems most likely to me based on Bruce’s obsession with constantly ‘mixing things up’ since taking his gloves off and ‘doing it his way’.
In goal, I think this might be the night Dubravka comes in for Darlow. The latter’s has left in the odd questionable goal (what was he doing for Watkins’ header on Saturday?!) and I think this will give Bruce the perfect opportunity to justify the return of the more senior, more reliable Martin Dubravka.
At the back, we went with a four-man defence at Elland Road and might’ve done the same this time out had we had both Fernandez and Clark fit. Because both are out along with Dummett, I can see Hayden, Lascelles and Schar continuing. After all, Lascelles looks absolutely knackered and Schar can’t be trusted in a back four, so they’ll need to be helped out by Hayden (who we could’ve done with in midfield, really!).
On the right of that five, I can see Murphy coming in IF Manquillo fails a late fitness test. Yedlin looks set to miss out again and Krafth is no wing-back, so he could be recalled – especially when his pace and direct running may offer an outlet in attack.
At left wing-back, Lewis looks shot for confidence after being ‘Bruced’, so I can see the NUFC boss turning to one of his senior men in Matt Ritchie – someone who’ll at least try and match Leeds’ high intensity approach.
The midfield is a tough one to call, not just because Bruce tends to change it EVERY single week, but down to the fact Shelvey seems unlikely to A) play three times in 8 days so soon after groin problems and B) because he’s almost certain to be chasing shadows and running through treacle against an energetic Leeds side who’ve covered more ground than any other Premier League side.
Bruce logic means he’ll probably start, fail to track their runners and pull his groin late on, however I’ve got a feeling he’ll play it safe with Shelvey and start the Longstaff brothers. Both are well rested and capable of getting about the pitch, but they’ll have to watch their positioning if they do start (they sometimes get caught pressing together and leave gaping holes between midfield and defence!).
In attack, Almiron must start after being our best outfield player in our last two games, while Fraser seems likely to return after creating two goals in our last clash with Leeds and offering Bruce some ‘encouragement’ in his cameo at Villa on Saturday.
Joelinton is due a start and I’d back him to if we go back to a 4-2-3-1, however his unreliability could see a desperate Steve Bruce leave him on the bench.
Up top, Carroll is due a rest (ironically against a Leeds side who are awful in the air), meaning Wilson could lead the line with Almiron and Fraser offering support (in theory!) either side of him.
Here’s a few ones to watch in Marcelo Bielsa’s newly promoted Leeds side:
Stuart Dallas – The marauding Irishman will have you believing he’s playing as a winger, not a full-back! He’s a big part of this energetic, all-out attack Leeds side and ranks highly for interceptions at the other end, too.
Raphinha – Bags of pace, skilful, direct and full of running, but has showed signs of adding final product to that before their dip in form this month, scoring an absolute stunner in that 0-5 win at West Brom in December. Whoever is playing at left-back has their hands full!
Kalvin Phillips – The man they miss most when he’s out, but he’s back from a one-game ban for this one. He’s their defensive screen who often pull the strings from deep. Has a brilliant range of passing for a holding midfielder, meaning he’s capable of causing bother if given too much time on the ball to pick out cross-field passes.
Jack Harrison – Only De Bruyne, Fernandes and Grealish have created more chances per 90 minutes than the Man City loanee this season, who destroyed us on the counter attack with a 88th minute stunner in the reverse fixture last month.
Predicted Leeds XI: (4-4-1-1): Meslier – Dallas, Ayling, Cooper, Alioksi – Raphinha, Phillips, Klich, Harrison – Rodrigo – Bamford.
Leeds may be out of form, but they battered us last time out…and we’ve only gone and got MUCH worse since then.
They’re devastating on the road against teams that allow them to play (see that 0-5 win at West Brom a few weeks ago) and will be looking to get their 2020/21 season back on track after three straight defeats in 2021 – and what better way to do that than against a Steve Bruce side feeling well and truly sorry for themselves.
Leeds can be got at defensively, as we proved last month, however I know who I’d fancy to win the match if it becomes another end to end affair of defence against attack!
Who knows whether this would be the final straw for Mike Ashley, but I see us getting out passed, outworked, outrun and completely outscored in this one.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-4 Leeds