With tonight’s crucial clash with Leeds United now just a few hours away, it’s time to predict what our starting 11 might look like when the team sheets are released at 5pm.
Keeping form, fitness and today’s opponents in mind, here’s the team I think an under-fire Steve Bruce will go with:
(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.