Newcastle vs. Sheff Utd: Team news, predictions and analysis
Newcastle United welcome Sheffield United to St James’ Park on Sunday for what will be the Magpies’ first Premier League match since March 7.
Steve Bruce’s side go into the weekend sitting 13th in the table, while Sheffield United are sixth and pushing for European qualification following their goalless draw with Aston Villa in the first top-flight game back after lockdown.
Many Newcastle fans would have hoped that new owners would be in place by the time they returned to action, but the off-field complexities and controversies of the Saudi-led takeover bid have ensured that that has dragged on.
More exciting times may yet be ahead, but for now Newcastle must focus on ending their 2019-20 campaign in style having already surpassed many expectations.
The appointment of Steve Bruce as Rafael Benitez’s successor was not exactly greeted with enthusiasm by every Newcastle fan, yet the Magpies are better off than they were at the same stage of last season and need only two more wins to move past the 40-point mark.
Bruce is well within his rights to hit out at the “disrespectful” speculation over his future amid the takeover talks, then, and he will be keen to focus on matters on the pitch as he looks to take Newcastle’s winning run to three on the bounce.
The 1-0 triumph at Southampton in their last outing is one of only two Premier League victories they have enjoyed since Christmas, though, and they are looking for back-to-back wins for the first time this calendar year.
Goals have been the main issue for Newcastle; Allan Saint-Maximin’s winner at St Mary’s was their first goal in five league games and over the course of the campaign they have scored a joint league-low 25 times.
Fewer than half of those have come at St James’ Park too, with Newcastle yet to find the back of the net more than twice in any of their 14 home league games this season.
It may be that the Newcastle players are able to play with more freedom without an expectant and often-frustrated St James’ Park crowd watching on, although they welcome a Sheffield United side that has lost just two away games all term – a tally bettered only by Liverpool.
Chris Wilder justifiably believes that his side should have had an extra away win on their tally too, but a freak mistake from goalline technology denied them what would have been a winning goal against Aston Villa on Wednesday night.
That it was the first such instance in more than 9,000 games will come as no consolation to the Blades, while the baffling decision for VAR not to step in could prove to be much more than merely frustrating for the club.
Victory at Villa Park would have seen Sheffield United move up to fifth, which as things stand would be good enough for a Champions League spot, but as it is they sit sixth and one point behind Manchester United.
If the season were to end tomorrow then that technological mistake would be the difference between Champions League football and not for Sheffield United, which would have huge financial implications too.
Wilder has spoken of his desire to move on from the injustice, though, and they travel to Newcastle on a five-game unbeaten run in the Premier League which stretches back to January.
Indeed, since losing to Newcastle in the reverse edition of this fixture the Blades have only been beaten by Manchester City (twice) and Liverpool, so they deserve to be regarded as serious contenders for the final Champions League spot.
Wilder will not need reminding that that home game against Newcastle was also defined by VAR controversy, and he will be keen for his side to take matters out of technology’s hands for their first away trip to St James’ Park since 2010.
Newcastle have a number of injury concerns heading into this match with Longstaff brothers Matty and Sean among those facing late fitness tests.
Matt Ritchie will also be assessed ahead of kickoff, while Dwight Gayle and Ciaran Clark have been ruled out with knee and ankle injuries respectively.
Martin Dubravka has recovered from his injury during the break, though, while Danny Rose, Valentino Lazaro and Nabil Bentaleb have all had their loan deals extended.
Sheffield United were without Jack O’Connell and John Fleck for the trip to Villa Park but Wilder is hopeful that both players could be available for Sunday’s match.
David McGoldrick could also return to the squad as he attempts to shake off a knock.
Newcastle possible starting lineup:
Dubravka; Manquillo, Lascelles, Fernandez, Rose; Ritchie, Hayden, Shelvey, Saint-Maximin; Joelinton, Almiron
Sheffield United possible starting lineup:
Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; McBurnie, Sharp
Predictions: Sheffield United to win and under 2.5 goals.
Not much seemed to have changed for Sheffield United upon their return, which will come as good news in their bid to qualify for Europe. They remain organised and difficult to break down, and it was only a technological error which denied them victory.
Wilder’s side have that 90 minutes under their belt which could give them a further advantage over Newcastle and, considering the Magpies’ scoring record and Sheffield United’s defensive record, we can see a low-scoring away win here.
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