COMMENT By Harvey Byrne
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez is set to face a selection headache before his side’s opening game against Fulham on Friday night.
The Spanish manager has 38 senior players, which include five goalkeepers and six strikers all vying for a place in the experienced manager’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
The north east club have also been busy on Wednesday in the buildup to their first Championship match of the season and they have confirmed the two signings of Ciaran Clark and Mohamed Diame for undisclosed fees from Aston Villa and Hull respectively.
Benitez will lead his side as the Magpies prepare for life in the Championship against Slavisa Jokanovic’s Cottagers, who are facing some upheaval with the club accepting a bid for Ross McCormack, while young striker Moussa Dembele has also departed from the club for Celtic.
However, the former Premier League side should not be underestimated and they also have former Toon midfielder Scott Parker as their captain, so questions remain over who Benitez will start against the London club.
The Spanish manager has added nine players to his squad this summer with Diame and Clark alongside Matz Sels, Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, Jesus Gamez, Stuart Findlay, Isaac Hayden and Grant Hanley, but who will he hand first team competitive debuts to on the opening day?
The former Liverpool boss is expected to stick to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation against Fulham.
Three noticeable omissions from the side would be Moussa Sissoko, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Grant Hanley, but with Sissoko wanting a move away and not getting any minutes for the club during pre-season, Benitez may be reluctant to play him. Mitrovic is banned after receiving a red card on the final day win against Tottenham, while Hanley has reportedly suffered some fitness issues after being left out of Blackburn’s pre-season.
It is also assumed that the Spanish manager acted quickly to sign Diame and Clark in order to get them into the opening day squad and they are expected to be in line to make their debuts, with Diame playing a more advanced role.
Sels is expected to be Newcastle’s new first choice goalkeeper after joining the club for £4.5million from Gent taking over the reigns from long-serving keeper Tim Krul.
Gamez could also line up in defence for his competitive debut, replacing the experienced Daryl Janmaat with the Netherlands international’s future at the club still in doubt.
Jamaal Lascelles could line up alongside Clark in defence with the former being handed the club’s captaincy during this summer’s pre-season, while 24-year-old Paul Dummett is also expected to keep his left-back position.
Manager Benitez has said that Jonjo Shelvey will play a key role in his side this season, so he is expected to start alongside new signing Hayden, pushing the dependable Jack Colback to the bench.
Ritchie and Gayle could also be in line to make their competitive debuts with the the aforementioned Mitrovic suspension and departure of Andros Townsend from the club.
Rolando Aarons will also be preparing for his breakthrough season at the club with Georginio Wijnaldum leaving for Liverpool earlier this summer.
Benitez will be keen to build a team that is ready to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking and the Magpies squad certainly looks stronger than a lot of the other sides in the Championship.
In other Newcastle team news, Toon attacking midfielder Moussa Sissoko is not a target for Real Madrid this summer.