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Opinion

Newcastle team v West Brom now looks set to be stronger than one that played Palace

1 month ago
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Predicting what the Newcastle team v West Brom will be, is slightly more problematic than usual.

The club haven’t published the usual training ground images ahead of the match, showing who is and isn’t training.

Whilst at his press conference on Friday, Steve Bruce refused to say which players were definitely ruled out for today’s match.

The NUFC Head Coach not wanting to give any clues as to which players were still unavailable due to the virus, indeed refusing to even say how many were in that position.

Despite that he gave a number of indications as to what kind of team he was likely to be able to put out, although he appeared to contradict himself with certain comments.

Steve Bruce saying he will be without a ‘big chunk’ of players today.

However, at the same time he also said at Friday’s press conference:

“If it had been Monday it [player availability] would have been totally different but thankfully, since Monday, we have been able to get a few back who had it and who have now tested negative over the last week.

“We have got 70% of the team that played against Crystal Palace available, so there will be changes.

“But I have got one or two of the injured ones back, so we are not anywhere near where we were last Monday.

“We will have a strong enough team and hopefully we will keep getting tested and those boys who are now into their 10th day will come back negative on Sunday.

“Then maybe a few of them will be available for against Leeds on Wednesday.” 

As a reminder, this was the Newcastle team v Crystal Palace:

Darlow, Manquillo, Fernandez, Clark, Lewis, Shelvey, Hendrick, S Longstaff, Almiron, Joelinton, Wilson

Whilst the subs were:

Gillespie, M Longstaff, Schar, Ritchie, Yedlin, Murphy, Anderson

On Friday, Steve Bruce gave an interview to BBC Newcastle where he was talking about the goalkeeping position. He said it was going to be an interesting dilemma coming up in the near future, once Martin Dubravka was available. Bruce stating that Dubravka still wasn’t training with the squad but hopefully he would be in a few weeks. In that interview I certainly got the impression that Karl Darlow will be available and playing today.

Often difficult / impossible to rely on what Steve Bruce says but I’m assuming his reference to 70% of the team that played Palace being available today, is probably him saying probably up to three of those ruled out but at least seven outfield players and Karl Darlow, once again available to play.

Obviously ideally you would have everybody fit and available but when you look at the 18 on duty at Palace, no disrespect but I don’t think any of the subs that night would improve the team, so if a few of them are also ruled out then purely in terms of the first eleven today, I don’t see those potential absences weakening the side.

You then have to balance the up to three Palace starters who will be missing, against players who could be now available who missed that last match.

Callum Wilson is by far Newcastle’s key player and he appeared to make clear he is ok for today, with a post on instagram this week. So if he and Karl Darlow are playing today, that is our two best players this season who will be involved.

The players who (as well as Martin Dubravka) missed Palace were Paul Dummett, Dwight Gayle, Jamaal Lascelles, Isaac Hayden, Emil Krafth, Ryan Fraser, Andy Carroll and Allan Saint-Maximin.

Jamaal Lascelles has been active on social media this week and I think he is somebody who will definitely be back, whilst also surely very likely Isaac Hayden, our best midfielder, will also be available again, whether he was missing Palace due to a positive virus case and / or the knock he had been carrying.

Jamal Lewis has also been active on social media the past couple of days and I’m taking that as a good sign he will be involved today.

Steve Bruce has confirmed that Dwight Gayle is now fully over his injury AND will be in the squad today, so that is another big bonus, as the only other potentially decent goalscorer we have, apart from Callum Wilson.

Allan Saint-Maximin is Newcastle’s most talented and creative player but has struggled a bit this season, he missed Palace with claims of a knock and / or dropped by Bruce and every chance he will be back today and could well be refreshed after this enforced break. He is another who has been active on social media the last few days, pointing to his availability.

Steve Bruce talked about having some of the injured back today and fingers crossed Ryan Fraser is one of them, he would be a big bonus to have on the bench.

So putting all the above together I think we can be optimistic that a core of players including Darlow, Lascelles, Lewis, Wilson, Gayle, ASM, Hayden and others, should all be available.

We then have decent numbers at centre-back where you are always confident of whichever two or three are selected. Whilst in central midfield, Newcastle don’t have any top quality but a number of options that mean there is usually little drop in strength whoever is available out of those we have at the club. Sean Longstaff has done media duties on Friday so he is another we can confidently say is available, if he and Hayden play then that is our best midfield pairing anyway in my opinion.

Add in the fact we have no stand out right-back, Manquillo is slightly the better but other options available.

So whilst the virus situation obviously hasn’t been good for Newcastle United overall, in terms of availability for today’s match it thankfully doesn’t look to have made a significant impact on the quality of the team that will be playing.

Plus of course Steve Bruce indicating that he expects the player availability to be even better when we get to Wednesday and the match at Leeds.

With 10 (11 if beating Brentford) games in these next five weeks, it is vital that the squad is managed well and players looked after, with this busy schedule coming up.

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