Newcastle’s foot soldiers have been falling on the battlefield as though struck by a sniper’s bullet. From Alexander Isak and Sven Botman through Harvey Barnes and Dan Burn, inevitably to Callum Wilson – they have clogged up the physio room.
Ah Callum, dear Callum, how long can this go on? I rate him so highly when he is 100 per cent but then again he rarely is bursting with rude health. Now in the last week we have been informed that he is on the missing list once again and will be until the end of December.
That takes him out of the Premier League, out of the Champions League, and out of the League Cup in one fell swoop. At a time of crisis that is a major blow.
As good a line leader as he is, as terrific as his goals per games ratio is, Wilson is proving to be more and more of a frustrating figure. The harsh truth is that it is increasingly difficult to rely on him given that he breaks down so regularly and at this stage of his career the situation is never going to improve.
I said a little while back that, if regularly fit, Wilson would have the capability to become one of United’s No.9 legends and you cannot pay any player a bigger compliment than that.
Many can see that quality, Eddie Howe and Gareth Southgate amongst them. The pair keep coming back to him regardless of his physical limitations. Southgate even picked him for England duty this international fortnight when he knew and admitted publicly that Wilson’s withdrawal was inevitable which seemed like stretching loyalty beyond reason.
As for United it is little good having a top striker on the payroll if he is only ever available in short bursts. It is not the player’s fault of course. It is no one’s fault. It is just that life can be cruel and hamstrings can twang like a guitar string.
Wilson’s problems are further accentuated by the fact that the excellent Alexander Isak is not exactly injury free either so the need for a third through-the-middle striker come January is worryingly obvious. United cannot keep going on a wing and a prayer.
What is more whoever arrived would not be third in the pecking order but would be able to pitch for the top spot.
I had previously felt that United would have to go for a teenager full of promise or a striker in the twilight of his career for them to willingly sit behind both Wilson and Isak but I have been forced to change my mind through persistent circumstances. All jobs are now up for grabs. Let ’em fight it out. Any newcomer would see his chance to establish himself.
Isak is star quality, no question, and thankfully will probably return against Chelsea on Saturday but of late United have been reduced to playing Anthony Gordon, essentially a wide player, as a false nine and toying with the idea of pushing Joelinton back up front where he spectacularly flopped when first walking amongst us. The trouble is it robs Newcastle either of Gordon’s fleet-footed attacks on the wing or Big Joe’s physical presence in midfield. It is a state of affairs which can no longer be tolerated.
Yes, middle of the park cover for Sandro Tonali is necessary in a January window which normally would not bring in a busload of bodies but United can ill afford to ignore the dire warnings up top. Tonali’s cover could well be on loan, a striker ought to be permanent. The only problem is the next window is only open for a month slap bang in the middle of the season and any potential selling club would be reluctant to do business given they would have little time to sign a replacement.
A spate of serious long term injuries have ruined United’s tilt at glory recently and got me contemplating which players can a shell shocked Howe least afford to be without? Perhaps there are two in particular who have so far escaped the dreaded curse.
First it will be a relief to welcome back Bruno Guimaraes against Chelsea because United have an incredible record of failure without him.
They have been unable to win any of their eight Premier League games where he hasn’t started since he made his full debut in March 2022. That includes last time out against relegation worried opposition, Bournemouth, when Bruno was serving a one-match suspension.
The other player whose influence is invaluable? Kieran Trippier, the man who made the headlines when confronting a disgruntled fan at the end of United’s defeat on the south coast.
Trippier’s sky high form may have dipped a little of late it must be admitted but then at 33 years of age he has played in every one of United’s 18 competitive matches this season other than the 1-0 win over Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. Plus his England appearances of course.
Yes, he may have benefitted from a rest he cannot have this fortnight and yes he has an outstanding deputy in Tino Livramento but Howe is extremely reluctant to voluntarily go without his talisman.
That Kieran exchanged words with a fan at Bournemouth is not seen as a confrontation driving a wedge between supporters and players, given who he is and how he conducted himself, but the act of someone who cares passionately. The whole thing was blown out of proportion in my opinion.
The fan involved was far from abusive, he is apparently a Newcastle diehard, and he had the courage to identify himself afterwards and apologise for a heat of the moment reaction. Well done all concerned.
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