Newcastle United vs Brighton And Hove Albion on Thursday night could be a season-defining game for the Magpies, and Eddie Howe has some big decisions to make.
His side were nowhere near their best against Leeds at the weekend, but still passed up a golden opportunity to pick up three points. Newcastle led 2-1 thanks to two Callum Wilson penalties, but were pegged back due to a cruel deflection off of Kieran Trippier.
It could prove to be a valuable point for Newcastle, but wins for Manchester United and Liverpool since then have ramped up the pressure on Howe’s side.
Next up for Newcastle is their game in hand, where they take on a Brighton team that has just produced their best performance of the season. They beat Arsenal 3-0 on Sunday, walking into the Emirates as the away team and playing the Gunners off the park.
Facing them on Thursday is a scary prospect – especially after a less than convincing performance at Elland Road. But will Howe shuffle his pack at St James’ Park? The Athletic’s Chris Waugh reckons so.
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Waugh thinks Newcastle will make changes to his team against Brighton
The Athletic reporter has spoke about Newcastle’s starting lineup against Brighton on the latest episode of Pod On The Tyne, and is anticipating that Howe will make changes to his XI.
“I would be surprised if we see exactly the same XI that started at Leeds start on Thursday,” he said.
“I think there will be a change or two, I just don’t know exactly what those will be.”
Howe facing a selection dilemma ahead of biggest game of the season
It feels like every game is the biggest game of the season right now, but that is par for the course when it’s the business end of the campaign.
Newcastle can put themselves on the brink of Champions League qualification with a win against Brighton, and Waugh believes that Howe is going to make changes for the clash with the Seagulls. That certainly would not be a surprise, but what changes is less obvious.
The big issue Howe has is his attack. He has gone with Alexander Isak on the left and Callum Wilson through the middle for the past two games, and it does not work. It does not play to the strengths of Isak, while it means we do not have a game-changing striker to bring no in the second half. However, they are both playing so well that it would be cruel to drop one of them.
One option is to play them as a front two, with Isak operating slightly deeper than Wilson, but a tactical shift like that would be a big risk for a game so huge.
Elsewhere, Miguel Almiron struggled against Leeds, while it is unclear whether Jacob Murphy will be fit to start. Other options include Allan Saint-Maximin and Anthony Gordon.
Another conundrum Howe has is the midfield, especially with Sean Longstaff out. He is proving to be a big miss, and it is being felt even more with Bruno Guimaraes clearly not operating at 100%. His ankle is still causing him problems.
Unless Longstaff is suddenly fit, the only changes that Howe is likely to make will be to the front three. It might seem harsh, but one of Isak or Wilson probably needs to start on the bench.