Newcastle United go to Bramall Lane on Sunday to face Sheffield United, with Eddie Howe hoping to find the correct balance in his team.
So we go along Recovery Road with a little more pep in our stride and the aroma of what used to be in our nostrils. Two good results, two clean sheets, and the prospect of back-to-back Premier League wins is encouraging, however the constant swagger of last season has yet to be recovered.

What United needs to do is revert to their performance against Aston Villa on the opening day before fear became a frequent companion. Even at their home ground, high press, unrelenting tempo, willing labour, and one-eyed ambition can help Sheffield United.

The Blades never win and rarely draw – one point out of 15 on offer has marked their shuddering return to football’s elite stage. To inflict more pain and rid ourselves of any self doubt Eddie Howe must get the team balance right. It is not quite right yet, either in midfield or up top.
And hereby lies a tricky problem highlighted by the current impact, or lack of it, of two massively talented players Sandro Tonali and Alexander Isak who just happen to be United’s costliest ever imports. The middle third remains a conundrum. Who plays and what format produces the best balance.
Two of last season’s Three Musketeers, the Joelinton and Joe Willock, are missing through injury which is no help while Tonali appeared lost and confused on his return to Milan and Bruno is still looking for that walk of invincibility he had a year ago while trying desperately – sometimes too desperately – to find it alongside a new partner.

Sandro Tonali addresses AC Milan return as Newcastle begin Champions League  campaign
Mr Dirty Knees, Sean Longstaff, ought to be one of the first on the team sheet this Sunday especially away from home because he is willing to be top influencer in the chorus line rather than insisting on being the star centre stage.


Tonali remains a work in progress and therefore at present a worry. He is an unquestioned talent and hopefully destined to be a Newcastle star of the future but right now with a lack of easy communication through language difficulties and a completely new environment, however welcoming, to contend with life is proving difficult. The Italian looked mentally drained as much as anything else on his return to the San Siro when it was hoped going ‘home’ would prove inspirational.


There will be those who, despite the club painting a positive picture, will be worried by these words: “I cannot disguise my passion for Milan. I didn’t disguise it when I was at Brescia, nor playing for Milan, and I won’t now that I am at Newcastle. It would not be possible or desirable to hide this passion.”


The question is, is he having difficulty accepting his departure? With Joelinton and Willock out, the only option for continuing with Tonali on Sunday is Elliot Anderson, who I must emphasize is a significant challenge to anyone.


There is still a requirement to develop another solution in front of a stuttering engine room. Isak has recently been disappointing, lethargic and lacking the fire that, when combined with enormous natural talent and imaginative thinking, can make him nearly unplayable at times. For me, he is United’s barometer – so much promise of great things, but so far, so little delivery.


Often in the San Siro Isak came short to receive the ball and never spun to get in behind and stretch opponents who could comfortably front him up. Meanwhile Callum Wilson, whose work load has to be carefully managed, will press Isak to start after a relative rest in Milan.


Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom may be a Yorkshireman but in his playing days he undertook an extensive tour of the North East turning out for Sunderland, Hartlepool, Darlington and Gateshead. Not that his affection will spread to Tyneside come Sunday tea. It has been suggested in some quarters that Sheff United are considering pressing the panic button and bringing back old favourite Chris Wilder after a winless run of five games.
It matters not, it would seem, that Wilder got the sack at Middlesbrough for steering them to third bottom of the Championship and was then politely shown the door after a short stay at Watford. He has goodwill a’plenty in the bank at Bramall Lane. Such surprising logic means it is all or nothing for Heckingbottom in the battle of the two Uniteds from the extremes of the Premier League.

Sheffield United are still winless in the Premier League, having been defeated at home by Crystal Palace and Manchester City, as well as on the road by Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur. Their lone point came in a 2-2 draw at home against Everton. That should energize Newcastle. A draw would typically be sufficient away from home, but because the Mags are playing catch-up, three points must be obtained.


What’s the bad news? Manchester City will play in the League Cup next. What’s the good news? Burnley are at home in the Premier League. What’s the bottom line? Win or remain twitchy.

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