After settling for a frankly pathetic point at West Brom last weekend, I sincerely hope Steve Bruce has significantly more up his sleeve this time around.
A Tyneside-bound Aston Villa may be travelling north without star man Jack Grealish, but they boast the third best defence in the Premier League – meaning we’ll have to pose MUCH more of a threat if we wish to do what we couldn’t at The Hawthorns.
Bruce came away from our last match “really, really pleased” with a draw; an embarrassing comment in itself but one that was made to look even more stupid when Fulham went and beat Liverpool a few hours later to reduce the gap to one point.
Picking up wins without Wilson, Saint-Maximin and Almiron won’t be easy, but with Fulham and Brighton looking capable and our run of four winnable games (Wolves, WBA, Villa and Brighton) now at its half way mark, that sinking feeling we all felt last weekend will only be eased if we turn draws into wins.
- Wilson, Saint-Maximin & Almiron – All ruled out but tipped to be ‘there or thereabouts’ after the international break.
- Javier Manquillo – Bruce has confirmed that he’s returned a few weeks earlier than expected. Back in training and was named on the bench last weekend, so let’s hope he’s fit to start this one.
- Federico Fernandez – Fit to return after two months out, but likely to be on the bench again after Lascelles and Clark helped us to a clean sheet at West Brom.
- Fabian Schar – Remains out with a knee injury after going under the knife last month.
(4-3-3): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett – Willock, Hayden, Shelvey – Joelinton, Gayle, Fraser.
Manquillo IN, Krafth OUT? – I think we’ve all established that when both are fit, the Spaniard starts over the Swede. The latter isn’t as solid defensively – struggling far more with 1 vs 1’s – doesn’t look comfortable on the ball and can be poor positionally. If Manquillo is fit to start, it should be a no-brainer for Bruce.
Gayle IN, Hendrick OUT? – The Irishman offered nothing last weekend and was hooked off just 10 minutes into the second half. Bruce has talked up the idea of Joe Willock dropping back into a midfield three for this one, so I could see him playing slightly deeper – a move that would allow Gayle to play in the middle of Fraser and Joelinton in more of a 4-3-3. I thought Gayle would play at West Brom and he didn’t, making this a dubious one to back, but our lack of a striker at West Brom combined with Carroll’s lack of anything these days should see our forgotten forward return to the starting line up.
Elsewhere, Dummett should keep his place after being one of few to play well against the Baggies. Some are calling for Shelvey and Joelinton to come out of the side, but both played OK last weekend and seem unlikely to be dropped by Bruce. Potential alternatives to both are Matty Longstaff and Jacob Murphy, but the former is rarely in the squad these days and the latter wasn’t even brought on from the bench at The Hawthorn’s – although he could be a useful impact sub in this one!
There’s been inevitable calls for Carroll to come in, but his last start was in that 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa; a game that saw him offer absolutely nothing if memory serves me correct. I want him to do well, but he’s sadly offered nothing to suggest he’s still good enough to cut it at Premier League level.
It’s been a while since I predicted a Newcastle win and that theme will continue here, unfortunately.
Jack Grealish will be a big miss for Villa – a team that have looked pretty toothless in his absence – but they don’t concede many and still have plenty capable players in Watkins, Traore, Barkley and McGinn to name a few.
The big worry for me is the fact this once promising 4-3-1-2 formation was built to suit Wilson, ASM and Almiron and has to be altered now all three are missing. Do I trust Steve Bruce to make the right changes? Absolutely not. After all, this is a manager who’d been trying and failing all season to find a system that suited us until Graeme Jones arrived!
There’s a glimmer of hope based on Villa’s recent struggles without their star man, but we’ll have to be MILES better than were were at West Brom to beat these – and I struggle to believe we will be.
I’m torn between a tight draw and narrow defeat, so will go with the former based on what’s at stake.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa