Newcastle head to Manchester United on Sunday with four players missing through injury and with Steve Bruce facing a selection dilemma upfront.
The Magpies will once again be without 10-goal top-scorer Callum Wilson due to the deep hamstring tear he sustained against Southampton, while Fabian Schar remains some weeks away from a return due to knee ligament damage.
Bruce is in need of an extremely rare win over the Red Devils this weekend after Fulham closed the gap to the Magpies and Premier League safety to just three points after beating fellow relegation-threatened side Sheffield United 1-0 on Saturday.
But Bruce – who played for 251 times Manchester United – has only beaten the Old Trafford natives once in his career as a head coach. So, as the 60-year-old looks to avoid a 20th defeat in 26 meetings, here’s a potential line-up the Newcastle boss could name…
Bruce opted to field Miguel Almiron in a makeshift false nine role at Chelsea on Monday night following the Paraguayan’s brace at home to Southampton and will be expected to persist with the 27-year-old occupying a central position against Manchester United.
Dwight Gayle would have hoped to see his name selected as cover for Wilson but failed to light up the stage at Stamford Bridge while forced out onto the wing. And should now see Ryan Fraser come in for only his seventh Premier League start in black and white, with the ex-AFC Bournemouth maestro able to offer the Toon width and creativity at Old Trafford.
Allan Saint-Maximin will be due a third-straight top-flight start for the first time since November, with support on the left-channel from Jamal Lewis, who recorded the most touches by a Newcastle player at Stamford Bridge with 62 earlier this week.
Jonjo Shelvey has opened 15 of his 16 Premier League appearances and captained the Magpies on five occasions this season, yet he should see his name omitted from the starting line-up at Old Trafford after producing a lazy and often uninterested performance against Chelsea.
His absence from the XI could afford Jeff Hendrick a return following his one-game suspension but should rather be taken by Paul Dummett after Bruce stated that the defender is in contention to start against Manchester United.
“We’ll need his experience and know-how,” Bruce said, via quotes by Chronicle Live. “We’re also mindful of just throwing him in there. Since Southampton, he’s trained another week, and the more sessions he does, the better. He’s there or thereabouts.”
Ciaran Clark and Jamaal Lascelles will expect to retain their places at centre-half, potentially beside Dummett, and line-up behind midfielders Isaac Hayden and Joe Willock.
Bruce had hoped to see Federico Fernandez be passed fit to face Manchester United but has ruled the Argentine out for a further week with a calf injury, joining Wilson, Schar and Javier Manquillo in the treatment room.
Emil Krafth took Manquillo’s place in the starting line-up at Chelsea but ‘took an ear bashing’ from Bruce for his performance and should now be replaced by Jacob Murphy after the £25k-per-week dynamo’s efforts at right-back earlier in the season.
Karl Darlow will expect to retain his position in goal despite claims Martin Dubravka is unhappy with his understudy status since returning from a cracked heel bone after Bruce defended his goalkeeper decision.
“He’s been very professional, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy [with not playing], and I wouldn’t expect him to be,” Bruce said of Dubravka. “I’ve stayed with Karl because I think he deserves it – all season, we’ve said how well he’s played, but I need that competition.”