PREVIEW By Amir Mir
Newcastle begin life in the Championship on Friday evening with a tough opening away fixture at Fulham – and Rafa Benitez could name six debutants in his starting line-up.
The Spaniard is expected to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation, with new signings Ciaran Clark, Mo Diame, Matz Sels, Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, Jesus Gamez, Isaac Hayden and Grant Hanley all coming into contention for a starting berth.
Benitez always likes to favour a strong defensive unit, so goalkeeper Selz who made a switch from Belgian side Gent is expected to start in goals ahead of Karl Darlow.
Meanwhile, recently appointed captain Jamaal Lascelles could partner the highly experienced Ciaran Clark at the heart of the club’s defence.
After conceding 65 goals on their way to relegation last season, the Spaniard will be looking to keep a more solid defensive structure in what is set to be a 46-game marathon.
However, Benitez will be without last season’s top-scorer Georginio Wijnaldum, who made a £25 million switch to Liverpool and the suspended Alexander Mitrovic.
New £10 million summer signing Dwight Gayle will be expected to fire in the goals this season, backed up by playmaker Ayoze Perez.
One notable absentee will be Moussa Sissoko whose future looks uncertain on Tyneside following reported interest from major European clubs.
Benitez still has a number of options to choose from for the middle of the park with Isaac Hayden, who impressed during pre-season one of a number of players fighting for a start.
Hayden made a summer switch from Arsenal on a long-term contract and could partner Jack Colback in midfield, with £12 million summer signing Matt Ritchie expected to start out wide.
This is the first time since 1984 the north east club will face Fulham outside of England’s top division, as the west Londoner’’ have already lost key strike duo Moussa Dembele and Ross McCormack who made summer transfers to Celtic and Aston Villa, respectively.