There were some positives to take from Sunday, but there was also a few awful displays and gaping holes in a side that were cut open all too easily by West Ham.
We need a couple of new signings – we’re crying out for a midfield enforcer and ball-playing centre back with pace – however we must also make a few changes at Aston Villa this Saturday if we want to avoid a similar story.
Providing Bruce sticks with the 5-3-2 formation he’s stuck by in recent months, here’s the side I’d like to see us go with at Villa Park:
(5-3-2): Woodman – Murphy, Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez, Lewis – Hayden, Willock, Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Wilson.
OUT – Krafth, Clark, Ritchie, Shelvey
IN – Schar, Lascelles, Lewis, Willock
Will Bruce drop Ritchie and Shelvey? Probably not, but both had shocking second halves on Sunday and will have their work cut out against Villa – a team with a combative midfield and creative players capable of doing real damage in Buendia, Bailey and Bertrand Traore.
Lewis struggled last season, but he bagged a couple of assists in pre-season and could have a Murphy-esque breakthrough season if given game time and the confidence to kick on in a system that should suit him. He’s also a great athlete capable of getting up and down the line and far quicker than Ritchie.
For all of Ritchie’s effort, he’s not a defender and got caught out far too often against West Ham. As for Shelvey, he started brightly but soon played with his head down, hands on hips and disappeared from the game just when we’d want our ‘captain’ to step up.
Providing he can get a good week of training under his belt after a bit-part pre-season at Arsenal, Joe Willock should walk into this team. His energy, ability to carry the ball from deep – something we were over reliant on ASM to do on Sunday – and goal threat is priceless in a midfield that often looked a little one-paced before his arrival.
Lascelles should also come back in on Saturday. Some don’t rate the skipper, but we nearly always look less organised when he’s not playing. I’d bring him back in for Krafth – who tries but just isn’t a centre-back or Premier League player.
As for Clark, he often does a job with minimal fuss, yet in this system his lack of pace or ability on the ball was there for all to see on Sunday. As a result, Schar could come in to give us that air of calm in possession, with his ability to pick passes from deep able to make up for what we lose without Shelvey.
I’m aware that this means three changes to the five-man defence that started on against West Ham, but Newcastle conceded double the number of big chances than any other team over the opening Premier League weekend. Do that again on Saturday and it’ll be another defeat.
How would you like to see us set up this weekend?