In two weeks, Newcastle United kick off their Premier League season at home to West Ham.
For the first time since March 2020, the Magpies will play in front of a full stadium. Well, it might not be full. Rumours of slow season ticket sales suggest it won’t be a sell out on August 15th.
But just like last season, Steve Bruce’s side will start the season against the Hammers.
Last year they were away, winning 2-0 in the capital thanks to goals from Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick.
West Ham went on to challenge for Champions League football, while Newcastle flirted with relegation.
But with two weeks to go until the start of the season, we’ve decided to try and predict who Bruce will choose to kick off the campaign.
Premier League opportunity for Freddie Woodman
With Martin Dubravka injured and Karl Darlow recovering from COVID, Freddie Woodman looks set to receive a golden opportunity.
The 24-year-old appears to be in line to make his Premier League debut against West Ham.
It will be a big test for the goalkeeper, but he’s excelled in the Championship with Swansea over the past two years.
His deputy will be local lad Mark Gillespie, who started last season on the bench as well.
The back five continues
Newcastle ended last season with a 3-5-2 formation, or 5-3-2, depending on how you want to look at it.
Either way, the use of wing backs really helped us move away from the bottom three. Bruce seems all but certain to use the same system.
And despite some impressive pre-season performances from Jamal Lewis, it would be a surprise to see anyone other than Matt Ritchie and Jacob Murphy start on the flanks.
Centre-back is a bit of a conundrum. Bruce wants a fresh defender in his squad, with Axel Tuanzebe heavily linked.
Prediction time: I think Tuanzebe will sign, but he’ll be on the bench for season opener.
Bruce has a few options to pick from at the back, but the only question mark surrounds Fabian Schar. Will the Swiss defender be ready to feature after his Euro 2020 exploits?
No Joe Willock in the middle against West Ham
Joe Willock was a key player in the second half of last season. His goals were vital.
Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see him in a black and white shirt when Premier League football returns on August 15th.
Instead, Newcastle will have to look elsewhere for goals from midfield.
Ryan Fraser is an option. He’s played more centrally in pre-season, and seems likely to start with no Willock return yet and Miguel Almiron enduring a busy summer of international football.
Callum Wilson’s Newcastle number nine debut
Last year, Wilson made his Newcastle debut against West Ham. This year he’ll make his debut as the club’s number nine.
Wilson has swapped shirts with Joelinton, with the Brazilian now donning the number seven.
And it’s the record signing who I expect to start alongside Wilson.
His pre-season has been interrupted by injury, but with Allan Saint-Maximin nowhere to be seen, Joelinton seems most likely to start.
Instead, the Frenchman might have to settle for a cameo off the bench.
Predicted XI to face West Ham in two weeks: Woodman; Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark; Murphy, S.Longstaff, Hayden, Fraser, Ritchie; Joelinton, Wilson.