By Matt Farr
Newcastle should bring in Jack Colback to replace the suspended Jonjo Shelvey for their clash against Sheffield Wednesday on Monday.
Shelvey is set to miss the next five games for using racially abusive language towards Wolves player Romain Saiss back in September, and Rafa Benitez faces a dilemma over which of his midfield options to replace him.
Colback has found life difficult under Benitez this season, having made just 14 appearances in all competitions, and he hasn’t played a part in any of the club’s last five fixtures.
However, of any of Newcastle’s central midfield players, the former Sunderland man is the most similar to Shelvey in his passing ability and playmaker role – and that’s why Colback should start.
He should partner Isaac Hayden in the centre of midfield, after the 21-year-old’s bright start at St. James’ Park.
Mo Diame, Christian Atsu and Achraf Lazaar should start, with the trio set to join up with their respective nations for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament next month, so Benitez will be looking to get the most out of them while he can.
Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark, meanwhile, should retain their places at the back, having conceded just two goals so far this month. Sheffield Wednesday pose a substantial attacking threat, and therefore Benitez won’t want to make too many changes.
Lead goalscorer Dwight Gayle could do with a rest, but he is in such fantastic goalscoring form, and Benitez will want him to keep the momentum going as long as possible. He has 17 goals from just 20 appearances in all competitions.
The speed of DeAndre Yedlin and reliability of Matt Ritchie should also see them included in Benitez’s best possible XI.
Karl Darlow is likely to retain his place in goal over Matz Sels, and the returning Rob Elliot – who has been out with injury.
In other Newcastle news, Shelvey believes an appeal against his ban would be unfair on his team-mates.