From my reckoning, Eddie Howe has three glaring selection dilemmas for Nottingham Forest on Saturday. It’s between Martin Dubravka and Nick Pope at goalkeeper, Dan Burn and Sven Botman at center-back, and Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock in midfield.
The other eight seem to pick themselves, at least to start the season. I suspect Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar, Matt Targett, Joelinton, Bruno Guimaraes, Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson, and Miguel Almiron will find their names in the starting eleven come Saturday morning.
One question is has new boys Pope and Botman done enough to unseat Dubravka and Burn? It’s not an easy question to answer as Howe hasn’t given any indication of his thoughts based on his team selection in pre-season, where he’s given most of the squad equal time to impress.
Pope has given an interview with The Athletic where he was asked about assurances that he’ll be the number one on Tyneside. This was his response:
“There are already top goalkeepers here and, no, there’s no specific assurances I’ll be No 1.
“The manager wants competition in every position so we improve individually and as a team. We always push each other. The problem as a goalkeeper is there’s only one starting spot.
“But, yes, no assurances, though I feel this is the perfect place to push myself to the next level.
“If I can say after my career that I’ve been No 1 at Newcastle for a sustained period, when the club’s at a really ambitious stage, that’s something I’ll look back on with great pride.”
Pope and Botman will have to fight for their place like every other member of the squad. They have impressed in preseason with Botman particularly catching the eye. However, Dubravka and Burn have not done anything to lead me to believe Howe has an easy decision to make.
It’s a similar situation with Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock. However, Sean has been especially lively in pre-season and probably deserves a start in light of Jonjo Shelvey’s absence. He was outstanding playing the deeper role against Atalanta which freed Bruno to pull the strings.
Saturday is just a few more days away and the mysteries surrounding the starting eleven will be solved soon. In the meantime, the squad will continue to make Howe’s decisions that much more difficult.