In our weekly Newcastle United feature ‘Toon Trending Topic’ our writers Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy talk all things black and white with Callum Wilson’s replacement, systems, Allan Saint-Maximin and the NCSL legal bid for the club high on the agenda...
What's the latest with Callum Wilson - and who replaces him if he's not fit for Chelsea?
MS: “The club has said nothing, yet, about the extent of Wilson’s injury, though the early indications were reportedly positive. That said, Wilson could still be out for a number of weeks, and the striker is one player that Bruce will be unwilling to take any chances with given his importance to the team. Bruce may well turn to Joelinton if Wilson is not fit, though there’s a strong case for Andy Carroll, whose more adept at playing with his back to goal and bringing others into play.”
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LK: “Mobility is something that concerns me against Chelsea should, as expected, Wilson not be fit. Bringing Carroll in does not satisfy that need, with United expected to have even less of the ball against one of the division’s top sides. But does Joelinton really offer much more? I wouldn't like to be sitting in Steve Bruce’s seat on this one.”
Do you think the 3-5-2/5-3-1-1 formation is working for Steve Bruce?
MS: “Yes and no. The team seemingly took two steps forward against Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but it took a big step backwards last week against Southampton. The switch to a more defensive, counter-attacking team seemed to suit the team, which had been far too open against Manchester United. That said, a team can’t just defend, and Newcastle were awful in possession at the St Mary’s Stadium. And that’s the thing, if United are to play this way, they must be a lot better with the ball.”
LK: “I actually like it. I know that might sound odd, but I think three at the back is the only way this group know how to play. I’m also not sure they can be coached into playing anything else by Bruce – switches in the past have more than proven that. The midfield three is a big problem and Bruce needs to try strike the right balance. ASM’s drop in form is of concern, too. He just doesn’t fit in this formation.”
How does the manager solve his Allan Saint-Maximin conundrum?
MS: “This is one of the biggest issues with the formation used for the past three games. Saint-Maximin, we’re told, wants to play through the middle, but he’s been very, very quiet behind Wilson. He’s been more of a threat out wide, but Bruce has chosen, for now, to sacrifice that natural width to give his team a more compact shape. Bruce feels that Saint-Maximin can adjust to the role, but he must be tempted to make another tactical change to get more out of Saint-Maximin, a player who is seemingly perfect for playing on the counter-attack.”
LK: “Saint-Maximin needs to get the ball deeper, that’s when he is at his most dangerous. With a head of steam defenders are at sixes and sevens when ASM is on the charge, he's much easier to deal with when things are tight and bodies numerous in and around the box. He needs to be back where he belongs, but fitting him into this system is problematic.”
If fit, does Martin Dubravka walk straight back into the NUFC starting XI?
MS: “No. Darlow has taken his chance with both hands, and deserves to stay in the team once Dubravka returns to fitness. Dubravka should remain the club’s No.1 goalkeeper, but if Darlow keeps playing this well, and stays fit, then he should stay in the team.”
LK: “Yes. He does for me. Darlow has been outstanding but Dubravka is No1 and will remain such when he’s back fit.”
And finally, what's happening with the never ending Newcastle United takeover saga?
MS: “The silence right now is deafening, but that, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. If there was no chance of the takeover being resurrected, we’d know about it. Fans must now put their faith in the legal moves of Mike Ashley and others - and wait.”
LK: “I get so many questions of this nature on Twitter. People are desperate for news, updates, progress – I get that. But the process does need to play out and that can take time. What I can say is things are moving in the right direction behind the scenes with the NCSL legal case. Progress, publicly at least, is just around the corner, I’m told.”