'This is a really difficult one': Newcastle United v Sheffield United build-up, takeover impact and Matty Longstaff future

Today is the day – it’s back but not quite as we know it.

Sunday, 21st June 2020, 7:00 am

Newcastle United take on Sheffield United this afternoon but instead of St James’ Park being the thronging heart of the city – as it has been on matchdays for more than 125 years – it will be empty, with Magpies across the globe tuning in to watch from the comfort of their own homes.

Our writers Liam Kennedy and Jordan Cronin will be, like you, tuning in – and here’s there thoughts on the issues of the week on the black and white front.

What system should Steve Bruce go with this afternoon?

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WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - MARCH 03: Newcastle coach Steve Bruce looks puzzled prior to the FA Cup Fifth Round match between West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United at The Hawthorns on March 03, 2020 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

LK: “He’s wanted to play four at the back since the beginning, I very much doubt, having made the switch before the break, he will opt to revert to a variation of the three defenders system deployed so perfectly by predecessor Rafa Benitez.”

JC: “I was always hell bent on the five at the back system, however, I’ve warmed to the defensive four after wins against West Brom and Southampton, mostly because I was enjoying Miguel Almiron’s role. I don’t think it is a system that suits Fabian Schar greatly though.”

Who gets the nod in central midfield?

LK: “For me it has to be Isaac Hayden. He is the one player who has something a little different in the sense that his energy allows him to not only break things up at one end but also, when told to do so, break further forward. Then it is straight pick between Jonjo Shelvey and Nabil Bentaleb to join him. On pre-COVID form it’s a ‘no-brainer’ as the Englishman is United’s Premier League top-scorer.”

JC: “Sean and Matty Longstaff being unavailable had zero effect on my thinking – I wanted to see Hayden and Shelvey either way. I think Shelvey, in particular, will play a big part in the run-in, whereas I’ve been slightly disappointed by Bentaleb’s performances. Hopefully, the break has allowed the on-loan Schalke man to get used to life in England again because there is definitely a player in there.”

Joelinton up top or switch it up?

LK: “Andy Carroll is perfectly suited to combat Sheffield United, as he showed earlier in the season, but I am sure Joelinton will get the nod. The Brazilian has more legs and will give United a little extra from the off with Carroll introduced for the shock factor later on.”

JC: “If I had confidence in Carroll’s fitness then he would be straight in because, as Liam said, he was excellent in the previous fixture at Bramall Lane. Dwight Gayle is doubtful and I’m hoping Joelinton becomes a man transformed behind closed doors. The Brazilian seems the obvious choice but Bruce has hinted at giving Yoshinori Muto an opportunity.”

Will takeover talk have an impact on the team’s performance?

LK: “It really shouldn’t. These lads have been desperate to play football. Go out and do what you’re paid to do.”

JC: “If the fans’ feelings are anything to go by then the team must be sick of hearing about it. I sympathise with Bruce and his players because they’re only human – they’ve had 11 weeks of takeover talk shoved down their throats. That said, I think the biggest impact will be the fact that there are no supporters inside St James’s Park.”

Should NUFC go the extra mile to keep Matty Longstaff?

LK: “This is a really difficult one. I’d love to see him stay, and it would be painful to see him depart. But he’s been offered a lot of money for a fringe first-team ‘talent’. A little bit of bending would not go amiss, but at this stage I’m not sure that would be enough to keep the 20-year-old Geordie.”

JC: “I think Newcastle’s chance to keep Matty has passed. He’s been offered a great deal by the club but this is something that should have been sorted well before Udinese could get involved. It'll be sad to see a local lad leave but hopefully, it's the final act of Mike Ashley’s disastrous 13-year ownership.”