The £75m Newcastle United changes Eddie Howe must make against Manchester United
With Newcastle United preparing to face Manchester United this Sunday (2pm kick-off), head coach Eddie Howe faces several selection dilemmas.
Newcastle are in high spirits having scored nine goals in their last two Premier League outings against Fulham and Brentford.
Howe has named the same team for both matches, but with key players returning from injury, he could be tempted to change things up at Old Trafford.
The general rule of thumb is to avoid changing a winning team, particularly when the wins are so convincing. And Howe is certainly a head coach who remains loyal to the players that have served him well.
After all, it took Bruno Guimaraes over a month to finally make his first start for the club and Sven Botman has been in and out of the side following his arrival from Lille.
But Newcastle are arguably in for a bigger challenge this weekend. Man United have won five of their last six Premier League matches and have only lost once at home to Newcastle in the last 50 years.
Back in 2013, Yohan Cabaye scored the only goal of the game as Newcastle came away from Old Trafford with their first win and only win of the Premier League era.
Howe will be hoping for more midfield magic from the likes of Bruno Guimaraes this weekend. But the Newcastle head coach still has some big calls to make throughout his squad.
There are several players who have cemented their place in the starting line-up when fit. Nick Pope is certainly one, especially after Martin Dubravka’s loan exit, matchday captain Kieran Trippier is another with the England international arguably one of the top performing right-backs in the country at the moment.
But the picture is less certain in central defence. Fabian Schar has started all but one game at right centre-back this season while the left centre-back role has alternated between Sven Botman and Dan Burn.
When Botman has replaced Burn in a more central role, the Geordie has moved out to left-back in place of Matt Targett.
And that’s how Newcastle have lined-up in their last two matches.
Schar has been one of the unsung heroes in Newcastle’s side so far this season, his transformation under Howe hasn’t been quite as dramatic as someone like Joelinton’s, but the Swiss international has gone about his business with class and consistency.
A player who looked to be on his way out of the club 12 months ago, now looks capable of helping it reach the next level.
Botman also falls into that category and then some. You simply don’t spend £35million on a defender for him to be a rotation option, especially when it’s so clear how good he is every time he plays.
The 22-year-old is dominant in the air and on the ground and seems to improve by the week. He has surely cemented his place in the starting line-up for what will be a tough test against an in-form Red Devils side.
But where does that leave Dan Burn? The 30-year-old was signed when it became clear Newcastle couldn’t land Botman in January, it was a reactive addition, but a good one at that.
Now Botman is at the club and performing well, unfortunately for Burn, it’s hard to see him keep his place as a regular starter barring a formation change.
Burn has been able to keep his place in the side as a left-back. While he can do a job there, it is becoming increasingly clear that it’s not his natural position.
And with a natural left-back in Matt Targett waiting for his opportunity, it is surely only a matter of time before Howe makes the change.
Any left-back who comes up against an £86million winger like Antony is going to be in for a difficult afternoon. And playing Burn out of position once again could be asking for trouble.
This seems like the ideal opportunity to bring Targett back into the side as Newcastle look to keep their (joint) best defensive record in the Premier League intact.
A midfield three of Bruno Guimaraes, Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff has proven effective over the past two matches with three goals and three assists between them – so why change it?
One word, Joelinton.
The Brazilian's return from a knee injury means Howe has a big call to make. Joelinton has been on the bench for the last two games but impressed late on against Brentford and even set-up Newcastle’s fifth.
Before his injury, Joelinton had played every minute for The Magpies in the league in 2022-23, he is a key player in the way Howe’s side play.
His intensity and ability to win the ball back epitomises Newcastle’s all-action approach. And the 26-year-old also put in a monumental display the last time the sides met in December 2021.
No matter which player misses out, it would be harsh. But Joelinton has proven too valuable to leave on the bench against Manchester United.
Longstaff would be the obvious choice to return to the bench in his place.
Allan Saint-Maximin is back from a hamstring injury. The winger has scored two in his last three matches against Manchester United and has one goal and three assists in four Premier League starts this season.
It’s hard to argue against nine goals in two matches, but Newcastle do seem more of a threat with him in the side. We saw the damage he did against Manchester City and Kyle Walker – the thought of him going up against Diogo Dalot is exciting.
But that would mean dropping Jacob Murphy, fresh from scoring his first goal in over a year. This will be a test of Howe’s loyalty, does he continue to reward the player who certainly stepped up in Saint-Maximin’s absence, or does he name a side that will give Newcastle the best chance of winning?
If it’s the latter, Saint-Maximin has to start.