Despite throwing in their worst performance of the season recently against Fulham, Newcastle United have the opportunity over the next two games to grab this league once again by the scruff of the neck and put major pressure on Brighton in second place.
Rafa Benitez will have some injuries to contend with; DeAndre Yedlin is out along with Daryl Murphy and Ciaran Clark. Rolando Aarons has been out long term. The Toon have some tip-top replacements though and will line-up in a 4-4-2 as follows:
GK – Karl Darlow
Rob Elliot is fit again and Matz Sels started the season, but Darlow has let no-one down in recent times and simply cannot be omitted.
RB – Vurnon Anita
Enjoying a renaissance in this position under ‘Rafa the Gaffa’, Anita will jump straight into Yedlin’s place.
CB – Jamaal Lascelles
Despite some lapses – to be expected captaining a club of this stature at 23 – Lascelles is generally solid and will certainly retain his place at the back.
CB – Grant Hanley
Described on these pages as underrated, the Scot will have one of his rare chances to impress at the back alongside the skipper.
LB – Paul Dummett
Struggling recently with a heel problem which requires injections, the Welsh international will most likely carry on at the expense of Achraf Lazaar.
RM – Matt Ritchie
Hard working, potent and definitely a Premier League player, Ritchie’s class is appreciated by Benitez and will be utilised again, cutting in on his lethal left foot to great effect from the right hand side.
CM – Isaac Hayden
A much bigger miss than perhaps first thought, Hayden’s return from injury will be a massive boost for the team and improvement in midfield is now expected.
CM – Jonjo Shelvey
The return of Hayden is a massive plus for Shelvey with the league’s standout player now free to express himself even more. Expect him to rake 60-yard passes straight to the feet of Ritchie, Gouffran and Gayle.
LM – Yoan Gouffran
Although fairly unlikely to compete in the Premier League for Newcastle next season, the Gouff has let no-one down at this level. 4 assists and 5 goals in the Championship – good quality ones too – have highlighted this.
SS – Mohamed Diame
It’s a case of ‘been there, done that’ for the Senegalese international who helped secure promotion for Hull from this division last year. I would personally prefer Ayoze Perez in this position, but Rafa has faith in Mo who probably gets the shout on Saturday.
ST – Dwight Gayle
Fleeting appearances from the bench following injury have teased the Newcastle fans of late, but their star no.9 will be back in the side this week and can be backed to get on the score sheet immediately.