One thing we learned from our dismal 0-0 draw with West Brom is that we must change our system once again.
While Allan Saint-Maximin, Miggy Almiron and Callum Wilson sit on the sidelines, Steve Bruce simply does not have the tools to formulate the plan that has improved our performances since Graeme Jones’ arrival.
The catalyst for this system was, unquestionably, Almiron. His tireless energy, speed, and tactical nous to play in the “false nine” position made him fit the bill for exactly what we were trying to do. When young Joe Willock was given the task last weekend, he looked like a square peg in a round hole.
Throw in the unpredictable dynamic of Saint-Maximin and a potent forward in Wilson either side of him and you can see why things started to look better before our recent injury crisis.
Trying to emulate the same game plan with different players will simply not work.
We were effectively playing without a striker against The Baggies and it was painful to watch us attack without having a clear focal point upfront. You would think – without feeling completely confident – that Bruce has been around the block enough to know this.
An old-school 4-4-2 with pace and width, implementing wide men whose main objective is to be direct and get balls into the box. We have seen enough of Ryan Fraser and Jacob Murphy this season to suggest that they could easily be given that role.
This formation would leave us light in the middle against an all-action Villa engine room, so dropping Jonjo Shelvey is a no-brainer. We can’t afford to carry any passengers and with Isaac Hayden and Joe Willock in midfield, we would have a nice blend of defence and attack combined with the legs to last a full 90 minutes.
The return of Javier Manquillo makes him an instant replacement for Emil Krafth, who is nowhere near as dependable at right back. Paul Dummett on the other side means that we should have a rigid back four that can keep it tight and make defensive duties their priority.
A huge dilemma would be who gets given the nod to lead the line. Dwight Gayle is the only natural finisher we have available, so he goes straight in for me on Friday night.
Picking between Joelinton or Andy Carroll poses the tougher question, with this selection headache the result of both players being seemingly incapable of hitting a barn door with a banjo.
The Brazilian was our best player against West Brom; hardly a groundbreaking feat, but it gives me enough reason to pick him over Carroll, who has looked way past his best since returning to Tyneside. Joelinton can link the play up slightly better, is more mobile and may just be able to create something for Gayle.
A direct, balls-into-the-box approach is suited to Carroll, however, he is pretty much over the hill when it comes to being a Premier League starter. This isn’t the same ferocious, goal-hungry 21-year old we had all those years ago, but he could still make an impact from the bench.
So only three changes but a real contrast in approach is what I feel is needed for our biggest game yet against Villa.
Let us be direct, get on the front foot and try to put balls into areas that will trouble the opposition.