Newcastle United’s £25million concern: What Joe Willock injury means for Steve Bruce’s plans

Newcastle United could again he without another one of their key players for this weekend’s trip Watford - we take a look at what Joe Willock’s absence could mean for Steve Bruce and the Magpies.

In a summer of stagnation and frustration, the permanent signing of Joe Willock provided a rare beacon of light in the gloom.

But, just five games into his return, Willock may be set for a Newcastle United absence, with an, as yet, unspecified injury.

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Willock was pictured with a young Newcastle fan, in an image shared on social media, at a shopping park, wearing a protective boot on his foot.

Now, at this stage, it is unknown whether the injury will keep him out of the Watford trip this weekend, or whether it was purely a precautionary measure.

Should he miss out, it would be another blow for Bruce, who has tailored this formation to suit Willock, and others, while the likes of key men Callum Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey and Martin Dubravka also sidelined.

Here’s a look at what Willock’s absence could mean for the Magpies.

Ryan Fraser of Newcastle United appeals to referee Mike Dean during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Leeds United at St. James Park on September 17, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Do Newcastle have a like-for-like replacement?

The simple answer to that is, no.

The reason Willock was signed was to add legs to the United midfield and a goal threat. And while the player is yet to get off the mark this season, he has, in the last three games at least, began to provide the drive from the middle he was brought in to add.

Who will likely replace the player, if he is out?

As mentioned, there is no real like-for-like in the United squad, but looking at the personnel, and provided Shelvey remain absent, Bruce would likely turn to Ryan Fraser or Jeff Hendrick to fill the role.

Fraser would provide more legs, but is without doubt less suited to a midfield role, while Hendrick has done little to impress during his time on Tyneside. However, Hendrick did put in his best show in black and white in the Carabao Cup defeat to Burnley.

Would Willock’s absence hasten the need for a formation change?

A system change is likely to be under consideration, even without the absence of Willock being on the agenda.

United put in an improved showing at both ends of the park when they switched to a 4-2-3-1 from their regular 5-3-2 in the 1-1 home draw with Leeds United on Saturday.

Willock played in one of the two deeper midfield roles, and did so without any fuss.

Newcastle United’s English head coach Steve Bruce gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Newcastle at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on September 11, 2021.

When will we know more about the situation?

Head coach Bruce will be taking questions from the media on Friday morning, ahead of his side’s trip to Vicarage Road.

Willock’s fitness is sure to be a topic of conversation.

The press conference itself is set for 9.30am on Friday, with the quotes embargoed for media release at 10.30am.