Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United visit Manchester City on Boxing Day looking to bounce back from their Carabao Cup heartache after producing a woeful display in defeat to Brentford.
The Magpies bowed out of the competition after failing to produce anywhere near the levels needed, despite facing a heavily altered Bees line-up with Thomas Frank prioritising his side’s Championship campaign.
Defeat made it three winless games in a row for Newcastle across all competitions, who will now be desperate to get their Premier League season back on course at the Etihad Stadium after losing to Leeds United and a 1-1 draw with Fulham in recent weeks.
Bruce is unlikely to make wholesale changes against Pep Guardiola’s Sky Blues, but changes are a must from the XI which lost to Brentford. So, with that in mind, here’s a line-up the Toon boss could favour…
Goalkeeper Karl Darlow is the sole Newcastle player to start all 13 of the St. James’ Park natives’ opening Premier League fixtures, and will expect to see his run in the side continue on Saturday with Martin Dubravka yet to fully overcome a pre-season heel injury.
Bruce is likely to alter the back-four which lost to Brentford with Federico Fernandez expected to be passed fit, having missed the Carabao Cup quarter-final after being withdrawn at half-time against Fulham after showing signs of serious fatigue.
Fernandez’s return will allow Bruce to name Isaac Hayden alongside Jonjo Shelvey in the engine room once again, while Jamal Lewis, Ciaran Clark and DeAndre Yedlin will start with Newcastle still without Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar, plus the recent struggles of Emil Krafth and Paul Dummett at full-back.
Bruce has been full of praise for Hayden’s recent efforts whilst slotting in at centre-half, hailing the Arsenal product, who reportedly earns £22,000-a-week, as being “terrific” against West Bromwich Albion earlier this month with a display that left the Toon chief with “food for thought”.
Ryan Fraser badly betrayed Bruce at Brentford on Tuesday night with an invisible showing that saw the summer arrival record fewer touches than Darlow and must be benched on Saturday, opening the door for Matt Ritchie to return.
Ritchie has started two of Newcastle’s last three Premier League fixtures after making his comeback from a shoulder injury in November, which Bruce noted the 31-year-old was “desperate to play” after having missed seven games across all competitions.
Bruce is likely to name Miguel Almiron centrally at the Etihad Stadium despite an underwhelming showing from the Paraguayan against Brentford, with him offering no key passes or shots whilst taking just 17 touches, per WhoScored.
The 26-year-old will retain his place having seen Jacob Murphy offer a creative touch from the right-wing, with the £3m-rated man taking two shots – only Callum Wilson (4) struck more – plus a team-high two key balls and a game-high five successful dribbles.