By Matt Farr
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez has been handed a major boost ahead of his side’s Championship meeting with Blackburn on Monday.
Mo Diame, Christian Atsu and Chancel Mbemba will all be available for selection against Owen Coyle’s side, despite their international requirements.
The Magpies trio are all set to depart for the Africa Cup of Nations which takes place next month, but Benitez has revealed to the Newcastle Chronicle that they will not depart until after the clash at Ewood Park.
When asked how many African players would be missing for the game, Benitez told the Chronicle: “None of them. They will be here until the 3rd [January].
“To have those three players here is always an option and it’s much better for us.”
Diame will represent Senegal at the tournament, while defender Mbemba will travel with DR Congo. Newcastle also made a special request to the Ghana FA to delay Christian Atsu’s departure until after the Blackburn game.
Former Hull midfielder Diame has been a superb addition to Newcastle’s ranks this season, contributing five goals and three assists from 22 games in all competitions, and it will be a major boost to have him available for one more game.
Atsu, meanwhile, has also been an important asset. The 24-year-old has scored three goals in 18 appearances since arriving on loan from Chelsea at the start of the campaign.
The tournament is set to run until February 5, so the trio could potentially be absent for around a month.
Fortunately for Benitez, he looks set to retain the services of two more of his African stars, as midfielder Cheick Tiote (Ivory Coast) and defender Achraf Lazaar (Morocco) were not selected by their nations.
They will now be available for the remainder of the campaign.
Newcastle returned to the top of the Championship on Friday following their 3-1 victory over Nottingham Forest.
Title rivals Brighton now have a game-in-hand due to the postponement of their clash with Cardiff, so the Magpies will want to ensure they make the most of their trip to 22nd-placed Blackburn.
In other Newcastle news, here is how fans reacted to Jack Colback’s display against Forest.