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League leaders Newcastle United host Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day as the British footballing calenders head into a hectic festive period. A 2-1 win at Burton Albion last weekend was enough for Rafa Benitez’s side to hang onto a slender one-point lead at the top of the table over second-placed Brighton & Hove Albion.
Carlos Carvalhal’s Sheffield Wednesday side themselves are pushing for promotion and currently occupy a play-off spot as they head towards St. James’ Park on Monday night. While they needed a late spot-kick to see off Rotherham last time out, the Owls are very much expected to provide a tough test for the Magpies.
Newcastle will be without the services of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey who begins a 5-game ban after opting not to appeal a guilty verdict relating to a Football Association misconduct charge. Jack Colback misses out with an eye injury, but Cheick Tiote could make a return to action.
Karl Darlow is Magpies’ undisputed choice between the sticks with as many as 8 clean sheets in 15 appearances so far this season.
With impeccable speed, good crossing and decent control on the wings, De-Andre Yedlin has really had a breakthrough season so far for the Magpies.
The former Aston Villa central defender has settled in well to life at Newcastle and looks at ease with the rigours of Championship football.
The young English centre-back has been a rock for the Magpies so far this season, something which hasn’t gone unnoticed by several Premier League clubs seeking a January transfer.
Keeping in mind the busy festive fixture schedule and maintaining the workload, Rafa Benitez could opt for Achraf Lazaar at left-back in place of Paul Dummett, before the Moroccan heads off to the African Cup of Nations duty next month.
Isaac Hayden has made a fantastic impression at Tyneside since his summer switch from Arsenal and has gone on to make 19 appearances in all competitions this season. Another start may well be in the offing.
In the absence of Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden may well be partnered in midfield alongside Dutch international Vurnon Anita who will be played in a midfield destroyer role.
Another performer instrumental towards Newcastle’s success this season has been Matt Ritchie. The former Bournemouth man seems set to fend off competition for his spot.
Mohamad Diame has slowly but surely turned his fading career around, and with five goals and two assists looks set to continue in the No.10 role for Newcastle against Sheffield.
Just like the impressive Matt Ritchie, Christian Atsu’s recent showings should encourage Rafa to persist with him on the left ahead of the likes of Yoan Gouffran and Ayoze Perez.
With 17 league goals to his credit already, Championship’s top scorer Dwight Gayle has been nothing short of phenomenal so far this season. His performances have kept fellow striker Aleksander Mitrovic comfortably out of contention for the starting spot up top.