It is important that we manage to get our first points on the board sooner rather than later. Last season, we saw how the team can go on very poor runs of form.
The key players are fit and Joe Willock will be available this weekend. We should have the quality to compete with Aston Villa. Below, we predict the starting eleven.
Freddie Woodman – The goalkeeper will continue in goal for the foreseeable future with Darlow and Dubravka still struggling. He did okay last weekend with his penalty save being the highlight. Woodman needs to be more dominant to secure the number one shirt long term.
Jacob Murphy – It is clear that Steve Bruce rates Murphy, as he spoke well of him again during his recent radio phone-in. He scored last weekend, but also conceded a penalty. Hopefully, we continue to see him make improvements defensively.
Jamaal Lascelles – Last weekend, it was a surprise to see him named on the bench. There are still fitness concerns, but we need his pace and leadership in the team.
Federico Fernandez – The Argentine may drop out of the team depending on incomings, but his experience is rated highly by Bruce. He has the aerial presence to compete with Danny Ings.
Ciaran Clark – Many would like to see the Irishman dropped. However, Bruce seems to favour a left footed player on the left side of the defence. Due to Paul Dummett’s injury, there is no other option to carry out the role. Clark needs to improve if he is to remain in the team longer.
Matt Ritchie – There will be a clamour for Ritchie to be dropped for Jamal Lewis. It seems a matter of time before that happens, due to the defensive frailties of Ritchie. Lewis would also add pace to the backline. Ritchie needs to be a lot better defensively to retain his place.
Isaac Hayden – It was harsh to criticise Hayden last weekend, as he was used in a number of roles. Due to Jonjo Shelvey’s injury, he will retain his place. I hope he is asked to play a more disciplined role with a focus on protecting the defence.
Sean Longstaff – It may be that Joe Willock will come straight into the team, but Bruce may prefer to use him from the bench. Longstaff seems the most similar player to Shelvey, due to his passing range. It may be wise to give him a chance to secure a place in the team. He has been linked with a move away. We need to give him a reason to stay and a starting berth on Saturday may help with that.
Miguel Almiron – The Paraguayan was full of running last weekend without doing too much on the ball. Aston Villa struggled with pace on the counter attack last weekend. It could be a good opportunity for Almiron to prove his attacking quality.
Allan Saint-Maximin – Our season will likely be reliant on Saint-Maximin performing more consistently. Last weekend, he was excellent for the first half, but he became less and less effective. Ismaila Sarr was very impressive against Aston Villa last weekend. Saint-Maximin has similar qualities. Hopefully he can have a similar impact and help us get the three points.
Callum Wilson – When he is fit, there are few better strikers operating in the league. Wilson guarantees goals and he will be desperate to get another goal against Aston Villa.