Final week is here. If the nerves hadn’t kicked in already, I bet they have now!
Manchester United await and with that the chance to end our trophy drought as Toon fans prepare to paint London black and white this weekend.
Here’s a look at the side we’re expecting Eddie Howe to field against the Red Devils, starting with the nine players who seem practically nailed on to start:
Loris Karius – Pope suspended, Dubravka ineligible and Darlow out on loan. He’ll almost certainly come in ahead of the inexperienced Gillespie.
Kieran Trippier – Leader, winner and one of our most reliable players. Could be key to stopping Rashford.
Fabian Schar and Sven Botman – Our first choice centre-back pairing who’ve helped us become the Premier League’s best defence.
Dan Burn – Has struggled recently, but he’s generally been a 7/10 performer under Eddie Howe. No one understands what this means to us more than him.
Bruno Guimaraes – Back from suspension and straight back into the side. His return will be huge.
Joelinton – His power, pressing and ability to cover every blade of grass could be massive on a big Wembley pitch. He can help unsettle a Man Utd midfield who’ll be buoyed by Casemiro’s return. If Joe Willock is fit, we could even see him play out wide.
Sean Longstaff – An unsung hero in recent times who does so much dirty work. Like Burn, he’ll be ready to put it all on the line to end our trophy drought.
Miguel Almiron – Our first choice option down the right side of attack. Goals have dried up lately, but his endless energy, ability to protect Trippier and break at pace could be key.
Now for the dilemmas facing Eddie Howe.
Dilemma No 1 – What happens if Joe Willock is fit?
Personally, I think Allan Saint-Maximin has played his way into Howe’s starting XI after a man of the match display on Saturday. However, if Willock (hamstring) is passed fit, there’s a chance he comes back into midfield and Joelinton is moved onto the left. I think we’ll see ASM start, Joelinton remain in midfield and Willock used as an impact sub if fit.
Dilemma No 2 – Callum Wilson vs Alexander Isak?
This is the tough one. Isak was brilliant on Saturday, but Wilson has a habit of delivering in big moments and has rarely let us down (when fit) over the years. However, is he ready to start after a recent hamstring issue? Would Isak be more likely to unsettle Martinez and Varane? I am currently expecting Wilson to start in what feels like a coin toss for Eddie Howe.
Predicted XI: Karius – Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn – Longstaff, Bruno, Joelinton – Almiron, Wilson, Saint-Maximin.