Our biggest game of the season so far and one Steve Bruce won’t be able to hide behind should things not go our way.
With no wins on the board and two beatable sides in Watford and Wolves coming up before another international break in October, this is a chance to kickstart our campaign that we can’t afford to miss.
It’s also worth noting that relegation rivals Watford could go seven points clear of us already with a victory at Vicarage Road.
Too early to worry about being cut adrift? Maybe, but we have an ugly run of fixtures over the festive period, putting huge pressure on an out of form side to deliver over October and November if we fail to grab our first win of the season here.
We’ll come up against a few former Mags in Moussa Sissoko and Danny Rose in this one, but the real one to watch will be Ismaila Sarr.
The Senegalese winger is rapid and the one gamechanger capable of hurting us like Allan Saint-Maximin can at the other end.
Hopefully, the Frenchman wins that battle with a little help from his Toon teammates, with us needing to improve defensively and get more bodies around ASM at the other end when opportunities arrive to hurt the Hornets on the break.
- Joe Willock – Out with a toe injury and ‘touch and go’ for next week’s trip to Wolves.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Out with a thigh injury picked up in 1-1 draw vs Leeds.
- Callum Wilson – Remains out with a thigh injury. Expected back after October international break.
- Jonjo Shelvey – Remains out with a calf injury.
- Paul Dummett – Also missing with a calf injury after suffering a recent setback.
- Martin Dubravka – Back in training but won’t be available for selection for a “couple o weeks.”
- Freddie Woodman – Out with a muscle injury. Hasn’t trained this week.
For the Hornets, Ben Foster looks set to start with no.1 stopper Daniel Bachmann expected to miss out again, while Spanish right-back Kiko Femenia could keep his place after overcoming a muscle injury that forced him off last week.
Predicted line ups
(4-4-1-1): Darlow – Manquillo, Fernandez, Clark, Lewis – Murphy, Hayden, S Longstaff, Almiron – Joelinton – Saint-Maximin.
(4-2-3-1): Foster – Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Rose – Kucka, Sissoko – Sarr, Cleverley, Dennis – King.
With Lascelles out, another midfielder injured in Joe Willock and Bruce praising how we played after changing formation last Friday, it feels like we might move back to a four-man defence for this one.
With that in mind, I can see Fernandez coming in for the skipper and Lewis replacing Ritchie; who surely wouldn’t cope with Sarr’s pace if played on the left of a back four. Saying that, I would not be surprised if Bruce sticks with Ritchie…
In midfield, Hayden could partner Longstaff – a partnership that worked well when the latter first burst onto the scene. Hayden has started at the back in each of our last two, but he’ll surely be needed in the middle of the park and pushed up if Bruce does revert back to this formation.
In attack, we need to target Watford’s lack of pace at the back, so I hope to see Jacob Murphy come back in.
Based on what we saw of Danny Rose during his loan spell on Tyneside last year, Murphy could get the better of the ageing ex-Mag – who is expected to start at left-back.
Down the other side, I’d like to think Bruce will use Almiron’s pace and energy to help whoever is at left-back up against Sarr. After all, the Paraguayan did a brilliant job defensively at Old Trafford but also showed his quality on the counter, playing a key role down the left in setting up Manquillo’s goal.
In attack, I expect Joelinton to keep his place after his improved display against Leeds, meaning Saint-Maximin could play just ahead of him in more of a free role – as he did to dangerous effect in our last away outing at Man Utd.
I think we’re going to edge this.
A lot may depend on how we cope with Ismaila Sarr – who could be licking his lips against either Ritchie or Lewis – but I feel our pace on the break could hurt what is a pretty slow Watford back line.
We need to defend better for the entire 90 minutes, but play as we did in that first hour at Old Trafford in our last away game and I can see us getting some joy here – providing Bruce does field quick countering-attacking options in ASM, Almiron, Murphy and/or Fraser.
This theme has faded in recent times, but Bruce has a habit of finding a win when he really REALLY needs one, and this feels like one of those weeks.
Prediction: Watford 1-2 Newcastle