COMMENT By Danny Wright
Rafa Benitez will have to make wholesale changes to his Newcastle team if he is to start his best possible XI against Wigan on Saturday.
The Magpies travel to the DW Stadium knowing that anything less than a win could see them fall off their perch at the top of the Championship.
What’s more, they’re still not safely clear of third-placed Huddersfield.
Firstly, Chancel Mbemba should be given his first start since November.
The 22-year-old hasn’t been used much this season but he was a regular starter at the beginning of the campaign.
Grant Hanley is expected to be fit to face Wigan but the Scottish centre-back has failed to make an impact on Tyneside in his debut season with the club.
Mbemba was part of the side in big wins over Brighton and Reading in August, even helping the team to a clean sheet against the Seagulls.
He was dropped after the loss at home to Blackburn but Benitez should seriously consider bringing the DR Congo international back into his plans.
Vurnon Anita should also be axed from Benitez’s starting line-up on Saturday to make way for traditional right-back Jesus Gamez.
DeAndre Yedlin has been ruled out for the rest of the season and Anita was less than convincing in Newcastle’s last outing against Birmingham before the international break.
Jonjo Shelvey should be fit to return to action and must come back into the side in place of the out-of-sorts Jack Colback.
Yoan Gouffran was also ineffective on the wing against the struggling Blues and should make way for Christian Atsu.
One change that has to be made though is up front and Dwight Gayle, even if he is not 100%, needs to return to the starting XI.
Daryl Murphy will miss the game through injury while Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goalscoring record for the club this season has been poor.
Mohamed Diame should start alongside Shelvey in the midfield behind Ayoze Perez while Matt Ritchie should start on the left wing.
With just eight matches left of the season for Newcastle, a win against struggling Wigan is essential if they want to return to the Premier League as champions.
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