Considering the quality of the opposition, it’s nice to come into this one not looking over our shoulders against a Man City side playing their first game since they were crowned Champions earlier this week.
I say this because Fulham’s 2-0 defeat on Monday confirmed that we would be a Premier League side next season no matter what, with Scott Parker’s side officially joining Sheffield United and West Brom in the Championship for 2021/22.
As a result, let’s hope we can play with the handbrake off against City and at least attempt to replicate the outstanding display that saw us hammer Leicester last Friday. It’s a totally different challenge against arguably the best side on the planet, but they may have one eye on the Champions League final.
Staying up is a welcome boost when we stunk of relegation barely six weeks ago after making Brighton look like Barcelona, but it’s nothing to celebrate – especially when this group of players could’ve been capable of a top 10 finish, not settling for 17th.
We don’t expect to win this one, however it would be nice if we could build on last week’s best display of the Bruce era with a positive performance heading into our final two games against relegated duo Sheffield United and Fulham.
- Callum Wilson – Ruled out for our remaining three games with a new hamstring injury. Thankfully it’s not a bad one, with Bruce saying he’ll miss “two to three weeks”.
- Joe Willock – Fit to play after Bruce confirmed he was withdrawn last Friday with cramp; not a new injury.
- Fabian Schar – Suspended once again, with his 3-match ban making him ineligible until the final day at Fulham.
- Isaac Hayden – Previously ruled out for the season with a knee injury, but was pictured back on the grass at Benton today.
- Ryan Fraser – Back in light training but not ready to feature in this one.
- Karl Darlow – Still recovering from a small operation on his knee.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Remains out after suffering a stress fracture in his foot. Is ‘touch and go’ to play again this season but may well sit it out now we’re safe.
- Elliot Anderson – Nowhere to be seen in the latest training pictures, suggesting his hip injury is yet to fully recover.
For Guardiola’s side, Belgian superstar Kevin De Bruyne has been ruled out, however John Stones is available again after serving a three-match ban.
(5-3-2): Dubravka – Murphy, Krafth, Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie – Willock, Shelvey (c), Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.
OUT, Wilson – IN, Joelinton?
I would’ve loved to see Wilson push for an England recall and Elliot Anderson get his Premier League debut now we’re finally safe, however it seems injuries will see both sit out this one.
Bruce has three dilemmas for me. Who starts up top out of Joelinton, Carroll and Gayle? Does he stick with Krafth in defence now Clark is fit again? And, does he go with the same attacking midfield trio that won at Leicester or bring Sean Longstaff back?
Starting in attack, I see Joelinton replacing Wilson, with the Brazilian scoring two goals in his last three games before he was dropped. Carroll and Gayle will want minutes – the latter will want to prove he’s worth a new deal and the latter a chance to get back in Bruce’s plans when Wilson is out – however I can see our £40m man coming back in.
In midfield, this is a game that could benefit from the energy both Longstaff brothers are able to offer, but will Bruce change from midfield that did so well against Leicester? I doubt it.
Krafth is not a centre-back, so starting him against City is a risk, however he did pretty well at Leicester last week, not to mention the fact Clark has looked anything but comfortable since playing in the middle of a back three – not down the left. As a result, I reckon Bruce will reward the Swede with another start.
I can see Lewis getting some minutes in the final few games to boost his visibly low confidence levels, however Man City at home could do more damage than goo for a player who’s not kicked a ball since our 1-1 draw with Wolves in February.
It’s difficult to say if we’ll be on the beach and playing like a side who feel their work is done, or one that’s boosted by last Friday’s big win and the fact we’re officially safe?
The same applies for City in a very different way. Will they have one eye on the UCL final and play their B-team (which is still capable of hammering us!) or be keen to celebrate the title in style and regain some much needed momentum after a surprise defeat to Chelsea last weekend…
Personally, I think they’ll be the latter and fear we might be playing without that added incentive that’s got us through the run-in much more convincingly than most of us expected!
The good news is that this should be the last game at SJP played without a crowd, but I see this being a comfortable win for the away side, with us likely to be feeding off scraps on the counter and little over 30% possession.
Prediction: Newcastle 0-3 Man City