Before this past Saturday, Newcastle fans had been treated to a rather torrid and dull pre season. Unconvincing friendly performances against lower league opposition, little ambition in the transfer window, and with all signs pointing towards another season under Mike Ashley’s ownership, the 2020/21 Premier League season looked bleak for the fans.
But Sunday the 7th of September looked to be a major turning point: rumours began to circulate that Newcastle were on the verge of making some marquee game changing signings. Officially signing Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson, and highly likely to sign his teammate Ryan Fraser. This along with a pair of left backs in Norwich’s Jamal Lewis and Sassuolo’s Rogerio are all expected to make the move to Tyneside.
A rather successful window (at least in the eyes of Mike Ashley) without breaking the bank, perhaps only Chelsea and Everton can so far boast one of a higher standard.
So with these new arrivals each having a claim to first team football, how should Newcastle United line up for their first Premier League game of the season against West Ham United on September 12th?
Goalkeeper: Mark Gillespie
Martin Dubravka’s injury whilst on international duty likely left Steve Bruce with a huge decision on who should fill his boots for the time being. The Slovakian shot stopper was undoubtedly the most consistent player for the Toon last season, singlehandedly (well, with both hands really given his position) keeping United out of the relegation struggle.
With Dubravka out until at least November, this leaves one of Karl Darlow and new signing Mark Gillespie to establish themselves as the number 2 goalkeeper.
Gillespie impressed many at his former club Motherwell, helping the club to a 3rd place finish in the Scottish Premiership, and is well regarded for his penalty saving ability. Although Darlow may have prior Premier League experience, such as in 2016 when he replaced the injured Tim Krul, it’s going to be a period of rotation before Bruce decides who to consistently place between the sticks until Dubravka’s return.
Defence: Javier Manquillo, Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernandez, Jamal Lewis
Steve Bruce is likely to return to his trusted 4231 rather than revert to Rafa Benitez’s tried and tested 5 at-the-back that better suits some defenders at the club.
Javier Manquillo is the clear and obvious choice for right back ahead of Emil Krafth and DeAndre Yedlin. Fernandez and Lascelles both enjoyed strong campaigns last season and are the most reliable Centre Backs in black and white following a series of poor performances from Florian Lejeune and Fabian Schar.
Left back is a toss up however: much like the goalkeeper position, the manager has a choice between the one with Premier League experience, or the more hyped new purchase from outside the English top flight. Injury to Paul Dummett ruled him out of ‘Project Restart’ last season, and this was also amidst rumours he had fallen out of favour with Bruce.
You never get a better chance to make a first impression, and for Jamal Lewis, even with such little competition in LB and as ever impressive he did look at Norwich, the first game of the season is the ideal stage to showcase his talents.
Defensive midfield: Jonjo Shelvey and Matty Longstaff
The midfield battle against West Ham will be where the game can be won or lost. Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice are perhaps the strongest part of the Hammers team, but the Magpies can count themselves lucky that the Czech international may be forced to self isolate and miss the opening day of the season.
This is the perfect opportunity for Newcastle to get the 20/21 campaign off to a flying start. Jonjo Shelvey somehow finished as Newcastle’s top scorer in all competitions, and as divisive as he is with the fan base, Shelvey’s passing ability will be integral in unlocking the West Ham defence.
Matty Longstaff should be the one to partner the 28 year old in midfield: with Longstaff committing his future to the club, now is the right time to integrate the gifted youngster into all future plans.
When was the last time Newcastle United could boast of or even salivate over such a promising young prospect?
Attacking Midfield: Allan Saint-Maximin, Sean Longstaff, Miguel Almiron
Watching Allan Saint-Maximin is simultaneously divine and depressing: a joy to watch on the pitch, but the depressing part is that he appears to be Newcastle’s sole creative outlet, and that all attacking presence disappears once the Frenchman is subbed off.
For West Ham however, Steve Bruce should retry a different attacking presence in the midfield: Sean Longstaff in the number 10 role: allowing the North Shields native to play further up the pitch and feed the striker has worked well in the past against both Oxford United and Bournemouth. Plus it’ll allow the pun “Geordie Cruyff” to be used in the future.
Future arrival Ryan Fraser may also be an option on the match day, but Paraguayan Miguel Almiron should remain the second choice winger behind ASM, ideally with the pair swapping sides for Almiron to play on his more natural left wing, and Saint-Maximin on his preferred right hand side.
Striker: Callum Wilson
We’re all heard of ‘second season syndrome’; the idea that a striker whose good in their first season will fail to replicate this form the very next year.
Is it possible for Joelinton to produce an even worse year than he had in the 19/20 season?
Step up Callum Wilson, who has been given the much heralded number 9 shirt from the floundering Brazilian, and for the first time in a long time, the Geordie faithful know they have a striker who can consistently find the back of the net: with 41 goals in 126 PL appearances, Wilson is the certain choice to start off Newcastle United’s season at striker.
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