As the Championship season enters its 29th round of fixtures, Newcastle will hope to bounce back from their midweek disappointing draw against QPR when Derby County visit the St. James Park on Saturday.
The Toons are just a point off the top spot and can regain it or maintain the gap with a win over the 6th placed visitors who will be wary of losing in order to have a chance of remaining in the playoff zone.
Newcastle’s lack of transfer activity in January means Benitez will have to do with his old squad, but the return of the AFCON participants would be a huge boost as the side attempts to return to winning ways.
Here is how the Premier League prospective returnees could lineup against the promotion hopefuls:
GK – Karl Darlow
Has seen his defence regularly let him down in recent games, with him only managing to keep just 3 clean sheets in the last 10 league games.
Would hope to help keep the goals out against a Derby side that has struggled for goals thus far.
LB – Dummett
Made a costly mistake against QPR only to be bailed out by his goalie, and would hope to be more thorough on Saturday as he makes his 27th start of the season.
CB – Clark
Cost the team the last time out with his own goal and would hope to make up for it with an assured display in the heart of Newcastle’s defence on Saturday.
CB – Lascelles
The side’s skipper has been a constant presence in the starting lineup this term, making 27 starts and coming off the bench once.
Should get another nod as Newcastle continue to edge closer to a Premier League return.
RB – Yedlin
Made some inviting crosses against QPR and would be expected to help supply them again into Derby County’s box on Saturday.
Would need to be more convincing with Anita who is still unfit, an option Benitez can always call upon.
ML – Gouffran
Has been largely underwhelming in recent games but is still the only best option for his wing with Atsu with Ghana at the Nations Cup ahead of their 3rd place encounter against Burkina Faso on Saturday.
CM – Hayden
Had a hand in both of Newcastle’s goals in their midweek clash in a commendable outing, and would hope to contribute to a win on Saturday as he makes his 23rd start of the Championship season.
CM – Shelvey
Scored a cracker in the last game to take his tally to 4.
Would also be making his 23rd start, and hopefully, continue adding goals to his standout performances.
MR – Ritchie
Has been in a fine form in front of goal of recent, scoring 3 goals in his last 2 Championship appearances, and can be another goal threat up front for Newcastle on Saturday.
AMC – Diame
Made a cameo appearance off the bench on Wednesday upon his return from international duty with Senegal at the AFCON, but would likely get a starting nod ahead of Perez.
CF – Murphy
Benitez is still sweating on the fitness of Dwight Gayle and would likely not have the league’s highest goalscorer ready.
In his place, summer signing Murphy would probably get another start ahead of Mitrovic.