After back to back league defeats and an early exit from the Carabao Cup in midweek, this really is a huge game for Steve Bruce.
Lose and we’ll be heading into the international break both winless and in the bottom three, but win and it’ll give us a much needed boost – getting that early season monkey off our backs in front of our home crowd.
Bruce told the press on Friday morning that he’s been encouraged by our performances in the main, feeling we were unlucky against West Ham and Villa and deserved to beat Burnley on Wednesday, yet the reality is we are yet to win any of those three games.
We started well in our two league games, but bad defending and us running out of gas – or ideas – as both games went on was a worrying theme.
Not only that, there was a point in Wednesday’s match where I worked out we’d had just FIVE shots on target in 250 minutes of football. We didn’t have one after the break against West Ham, managed our only effort on goal in the 96th minute at Villa and didn’t test Burnley’s goalkeeper until the second half in midweek.
Some of our states regarding expected goals have actually improved on last season based on the early season stats, however we need to pose much more of a consistent threat in the attacking, strike a much better balance in midfield and switch on defensively after avoidable lapses in both of our EPL defeats so far.
As for Southampton, they come into this game winless in the league but on a mini-high, having followed up a 1-1 draw at home to Man Utd with an emphatic 8-0 win at Newport the night we went out to Burnley.
James Ward Prowse is their star man – his ability from set pieces is up there with the best in the division – and exciting new right-back Valentino Livramento is another one to watch, however all eyes will be on ex-Mag Adam Armstrong.
The Geordie striker – sold by Rafa Benitez just three years ago – is Southampton’s Danny Ings replacement and could prove to be a snip at £15m, possessing the sort of pace, pressing and shoot-on-sight ability that will cause our ageing backline nightmares if we’re not careful.
- Isaac Hayden – ‘Touch and go’ after being forced off at Villa and missing out vs Burnley. Trained on Thursday.
- Jonjo Shelvey – Remains out with a calf injury. The last update from Bruce suggested he’ll be out for ‘3-4 weeks.’
- Paul Dummett – Back in training and available for selection. Unlikely to start, but could make Bruce’s bench.
- Martin Dubravka – Remains out, with his foot becoming infected following surgery this summer.
- Karl Darlow – Isn’t being rushed back after suffering badly with Covid last month.
For the visitors, midfielder Stuart Armstrong is out with a calf problem while long-term absentee Will Smallbone (knee) also remains absent.
It remains to be seen if Brazilian centre-back Lyanco – Jannik Vestergaard’s replacement – will be fit enough to start following his £7.5m move from Torino.
(5-3-2): Woodman – Murphy, Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez, Ritchie – S Longstaff, Willock, Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Wilson.
I can’t see us making many changes here, with most of our ‘starting 11’ given a good rest in midweek.
One change could be enforced, however, with Isaac Hayden limping off last weekend and failing to feature against Burnley.
Bruce has confirmed he trained on Thursday and is ‘tough and go’ for this one, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays it sage and hands a start to Sean Longstaff.
He was tidy in the second half at Villa and put in a solid display in the ‘Shelvey role’ on Wednesday, meaning he could be the most likely option just behind Willock and Almiron.
In defence, Krafth and Clark did themselves no harm with solid display in the cup, however Schar is the ball-playing defender we lack and Fernandez is likely to return after a rest.
Manquillo was impressive against Burnley down the right, but Murphy has made the position his own over the past year – although needs to improve defensively if he’s to hold onto that RWB slot.
I can see there being a few goals in this one, and think the key will be our ability to break their press.
Armstrong and Adams were absolute pests in their 1-1 draw against Man Utd and also forced Everton’s Michael Keane into a bad mistake for their goal at Goodison on the opening weekend, so it’s vital we don’t get caught out at the back here.
If we manage to bypass that press, I fancy the likes of Willock, ASM and Almiron to get plenty of joy, with the latter enjoying his best game in a black and white shirt in this fixture last season.
I’d back us to score a couple – the Saints often give you chances – yet fear our one-paced backline lacking in ball playing defenders could struggle to handle their high press and pace in attack.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Southampton