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Opinion

Newcastle team v Watford with five changes that can get this first win of the season

3 weeks ago
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Looking at this Newcastle team v Watford.

You have to think this is already a potentially vital match in the season.

Watford were hot favourites along with Norwich to go down, yet if they win, the Hornets will already be seven points clear of Newcastle with just the six Premier League games played.

The home side showed where their priorities absolutely lie, having played an entire reserve team in midweek when they lost to Stoke in the League Cup. Eleven changes from the Watford team that had the very convincing 3-1 away win at Norwich last weekend.

So no hope of tired legs helping Newcastle United this time. Whilst for Steve Bruce and his players, having left the competition at the first hurdle back in August, no excuses for their own preparation this week.

The next six games see Newcastle playing away to Watford, Wolves, Palace and Brighton, whilst the only home games in that period taking us up to past the November international break are Spurs and Chelsea.

With Newcastle United already in the relegation zone, failing to win on Saturday would be a massive blow, whilst getting beat would be another level (levels?) above that.

With that, here’s my choice below of Newcastle team v Watford for this upcoming game on Saturday afternoon, as well as my reasons for going with this eleven.

As a starting point…

This was the Newcastle team v Leeds:

Darlow, Manquillo, Hayden, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Willock, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton

I make it five changes in total that I would make to that starting eleven that were lucky to get a 1-1 draw, with a significant change of direction in terms of both team selection and tactics / set-up.

Having watched that Leeds goal a number of times, I have zero doubt that if it had been Freddie Woodman, he’d have been blamed for it. They are awkward those inswinging crosses but it came from a long way out towards the side of the pitch and I think Karl Darlow could have been better positioned and reacted better.

Having said that, he did ok overall on his return to the side and deserves to play again. That decision straightforward anyway with both Dubravka and Woodman unavailable through injury.

The idea that the defending was any better on Friday because only one goal was conceded, compared to twelve in the previous four, is a very misleading one for me. Leeds cut Newcastle open any number of times and only woeful finishing from the visitors saved Steve Bruce’s team, I reckon Bielsa’s players had at least six or seven opportunities in great positions but failed to properly connect on any of them.

The change during the match to a back four certainly didn’t do any harm but I would still replace three of that defence.

Manquillo is the exception, backing up a very good display at Man U with a solid performance against Leeds, most of Newcastle’s problems coming through the middle and particularly the (Newcastle’s) left hand side.

Matt Ritchie really struggled and up against some lively Watford attacking players this coming weekend, it is time to give Lewis another chance. He is quicker than Ritchie and in a back four anyway, you surely definitely wouldn’t want to be playing the 32 year old. Lewis’ defending certainly can’t be any worse than Ritchie’s has been so far this season.

Any positives that Jamaal Lascelles used to give this team are now a distant memory, Federico Fernandez would comfortably win any fan poll if choosing between the pair of them.

Ciaran Clark was another one to struggle against Leeds and ahead of turning 32 on Sunday, I think needs replaced as well. Fabian Schar always seems to be the one that Steve Bruce can’t wait to drop at the back and I think in his two PL matches so far this season against Villa and Southampton, he certainly didn’t look the worst central defender we have seen in the opening five league games. He can  also hopefully help us play the ball out of defence a bit better, far more comfortable on the ball than Clark or Lascelles.

Isaac Hayden was yet another central defender who struggled against Leeds BUT once he was moved forward into midfield, both he and the team did start to look better.

Certainly one of Bruce’s more bizarre decisions (amongst the many) for me, playing probably our best midfielder out of position as another centre-back, where he hasn’t looked great.

Anyway, I think pushing him forward and playing alongside, rather than behind, Sean Longstaff, can be a win / win situation for the pair of them and the team.

They can both get around the pitch and as well as protecting the defence better, also help lay a better platform for the attacking players to produce more.

Joe Willock was pictured on social media wearing a protective boot on his left foot, so guessing he is very unlikely to be available. Or even if he did end up as a possible starter, surely with there obviously an issue there, it would be better to rest Willock / start him from the bench, rather than taking risks with him longer term.

Callum Wilson remains out and that leaves only one out and out striker. Dwight Gayle may not be the total answer but he is the next best to Wilson and will score goals if getting the service. I am sick of seeing comments about Joelinton supposedly doing a lot better, I just can’t see it. Maybe marginally better but still nowhere near good enough and most importantly, in a team that has so few goals to start with, he offers absolutely zero threat to the opposition goal.

Alan Saint-Maximin must of course be allowed to continue in his free role, pretty much doing whatever he wants, in four of the five PL games he has either got an assist or a goal, so needs to keep on playing as high up the pitch as possible. Gayle is always willing to do his fair share of work when Newcastle don’t have the ball, so no reason why can’t work well with ASM.

With either a 4-4-1-1 or maybe a 4-2-2-1-1 / 4-2-2-2, I would have Almiron and Fraser out wide / in support of the front two. These two are mobile and can do their fair share of defending as well but hopefully, especially with Almiron, a change of formation to four at the back and Hayden joining Longstaff in midfield, can help get the Paraguayan further up the pitch and contributing more where his main strengths are.

My Newcastle team v Watford:

Darlow, Manquillo, Fernandez, Schar, Lewis, Fraser, Hayden, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Gayle

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