A gritty 3-2 victory over Southampton today gave Newcastle its second win in seven days and saw the club go ten points above the drop zone with Fulham drawing against West Ham a few hours later. The story of the match for Newcastle was largely the discipline and tenacity of the defense following a series of injury substitutions, and Jeff Hendrick’s idiotic second yellow, that forced the side to play the final 40+ minutes at least one man down.
However, it must also be noted that this was the first time in over four months, since the 3-1 victory over Burnley on October 3rd, that Newcastle scored three goals in a match. It was a debut goal for Joe Willock, and two from Miggy Almiron, that gave the Toon a first-half lead they would not relinquish, a refreshing sight from a team that had only scored three goals in their previous nine league games.
A myriad of defensive injuries has led Steve Bruce to employ Newcastle’s Swiss army knife Isaac Hayden as a center-back, which begs the question of how the midfield and forwards will look in upcoming matches without him. Here is how I believe Steve Bruce will set up the torso and head of our lineup as long as Hayden stays as a makeshift defender:
Bruce employed a 4-2-3-1 structure in the win against Southampton, with Wilson as the sole striker, and an attacking trio of ASM - Miggy - Willock sitting in front of Shelvey - Hendrick. However, our next two matches are against Chelsea and Manchester United, two teams with attacks far more potent than the southern coast adversaries. Because of this, I think Bruce will resort back to the 4-3-1-2 formation used against Crystal Palace and Everton.
3 Defensive Midfielders: M. Longstaff - Shelvey - Willock
Jeff Hendrick’s horror show against Southampton should certainly lead to him being dropped from the starting eleven, with Lee Ryder rightly giving him a 2/10 in his post-match ratings. Matty Longstaff has looked very positive in his limited appearances this season and, after being a healthy scratch today, should step into the lineup against Chelsea. Shelvey seems undroppable regardless of performance, and despite contributing very little, will remain in the midfield. Joe Willock had a dream debut, scoring and providing needed graft, and will remain in the lineup in a more defensive position than his RAM spot today.
1 Attacking Midfielder: Almiron
The overwhelming consensus today had Miggy as the Man of the Match, after an inspiring two-goal performance that also featured numerous moments of key defensive pressure. After 18 months Bruce seems to have finally realized the Paraguayan's best position behind the striker as the #10 and will continue to run with what’s working.
2 Strikers: Wilson - Joelinton
Callum Wilson has been pivotal to Newcastle as our leading scorer, and despite him being removed with a hamstring injury after 36 minutes, I predict he recovers in time for the Chelsea match on February 15th. There have been flashes of a copasetic partnership building between Wilson and Joelinton, highlighted by them both getting goals in the November 2-0 win over Palace. For what he may lack in goal-scoring prowess at the moment, Joelinton does a solid job bringing teammates into play, as well as dropping into a defensive role, and will be asked to do both against the two upcoming top half opponents.