Newcastle United have won their last three matches in the Premier League but have now lost two of their right-backs in Kieran Trippier and Javier Manquillo.
Both players were withdrawn midway through The Magpies’ 1-0 win over Aston Villa at St James’s Park. Trippier has suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal and is facing at least a couple of months on the sidelines while Manquillo is set to miss the trip to The London Stadium with an ankle ligament problem.
Manquillo could still be back in contention before the end of the month but Howe is likely to be without the defender this coming weekend.
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Now Newcastle’s first and second choice right-backs are unavailable, what does Howe do?
In comes Emil Krafth
The most obvious and most likely decision will be to hand Emil Krafth a run of games at right-back. The Swedish international has flattered to deceive since arriving from Amiens SC in 2019 but is the only remaining natural right-back in the squad.
The 27-year-old came off the bench to replace Trippier in Sunday’s win and has started just two matches since Howe’s arrival back in November.
But he did put in a solid performance the last time he started a match for The Magpies against Manchester United in December.
Unless Howe decides to change formation or play someone out of position, Krafth will start at right-back for Newcastle this weekend.
A formation change?
Howe has been able to establish a playing identity at Newcastle in a 4-3-3 formation. The side have put together a five match unbeaten run including three consecutive wins playing with a back four so there may be some considerable reluctance to change things.
Matt Targett is expected to slot back in at left-back after being ineligible for the Aston Villa match. Jamaal Lascelles could also make the trip following an illness that kept him out of last weekend’s match.
If Lascelles is available, will Howe realistically drop an in form Fabian Schar or Dan Burn, who had a hugely impressive debut, in place of the skipper? Given that it was only Newcastle’s third clean sheet of the season on Sunday, Howe will only tinker where absolutely necessary.
But a switch to three at the back with Burn and Schar either side of Lascelles is a potential option which opens up new possibilities in the right wing-back area.
Playing with three centre-backs would allow less natural defensive players such as Jacob Murphy or Ryan Fraser to be deployed in a wing-back role.
But after playing three at the back in his first game in charge against Brentford, Howe has reverted and stuck to a four at the back formation ever since.
It’s hard to see Howe veering from his tried and tested 4-3-3/4-5-1 set-up when he doesn’t need to. The team are in good form and a change of formation would be a risk from the United head coach.
Krafth will be seen as the weak-link in Newcastle’s back four but it’s pointless having natural right-backs in the 25-man squad if you’re not going to use them when needed.
Newcastle’s back four v West Ham: Targett, Burn, Schar and Krafth.