Now today’s clash with Southampton is just a few hours away, it’s time to predict what sort of side Steve Bruce will go with ahead of our 3pm kick off at St James’ Park.
Keeping form, fitness and injury issues in mind, here’s the team I can see him going with and why:
Predicted line up
(4-3-1-2): Darlow – Manquillo, Schar, Clark, Ritchie – Hendrick, Hayden, Shelvey – Almiron – Wilson, Sant-Maximin.
OUT – Lewis and Fraser?
IN – Ritchie and Saint-Maximin?
Once again, I prefer to have Dubravka back – which is more a reflection of how good he is than how well our No 2 has stepped in – however it seems Bruce is sticking with Darlow until he gives him a major reason not to.
At the back, my line up is on the basis that Clark’s wife has given birth on Friday, with Bruce suggesting that any lengthy period in labour will see the Irish international miss this one. So, if he’s available he’ll partner Schar, otherwise Hayden will have to drop in – which wouldn’t be ideal given he’s key to bringing fight, bravery and balance to our midfield!
Lewis’ hamstring issue and Bruce’s comments on him looking likely to miss out pointed to Ritchie starting at left-back. He’s not usually used here if we’re going with a flat back four, but needs must – especially when playing Manquillo down the left would see Krafth come in at RB. Either way, it seems we may be seeing a new-look defence that’s yet to play together.
I’d personally be tempted to start Willock, believing the Arsenal loanee could offer some much needed drive, pace and energy against a fragile Saints side, however it seems likely that the 21-year-old talent is eased in gradually.
That would mean the same midfield three as we’ve seen over the past two games (Hendrick, Hayden and Shelvey), with Matty and Sean seeming to have dropped back down Bruce’s pecking order of late.
In attack, Fraser does not deserve to be dropped, but persistent injury issues, illness earlier this week and the thought of three games in seven days could see Bruce give Saint-Maximin a start instead.
The former Bournemouth star has created a host of chances in our last two, but that’s another reason to suggest he must be protected – especially when his replacement would be a fit-again ASM.
That would see the Frenchman play close by Callum Wilson should we stick with a 4-3-1-2, however he could for once get good service if Almiron continues to look fully of ideas and energy in that No 10 role behind them. He was our best player against Palace and has been our only consistent player since the turn of the year for me.
How do you see us lining up? Let us know in the comments!