COMMENT By Matt Farr
Newcastle duo Mohamed Diame and Isaac Hayden, as well as Norwich midfielder Jonny Howson would be the unfortunate casualties in a side comprised of the best players between both clubs.
The two Championship rivals are set to go head-to-head at Carrow Road on Tuesday night, with Newcastle looking to extend their lead at the top of the table, while Norwich intend to break into the play-offs.
There is little to separate the two sides in the build-up to the fixture, with both sides having gone unbeaten in their last five league games.
Midfield trio Diame, Hayden and Howson would fail to make the cut in a combined team, while there would also be no place for Magpies defender Ciaran Clark or Canaries goalscorer Nelson Oliveira.
There would be a number of tough calls to make in the combined XI, starting with the goalkeeper.
Both clubs are blessed with a number of quality, and internationally-recognised goalkeepers, but the experienced John Ruddy would get the nod overall.
The 30-year-old stopper has kept eight clean sheets from 19 appearances this term.
The back-four would see a 50/50 split between Newcastle and Norwich, and would see the likes of Clark, DeAndre Yedlin and Russell Martin overlooked.
Paul Dummett and Jamaal Lascelles would earn the right to represent Newcastle in the combined XI, while Timm Klose and Ivo Pinto are the two that make the cut for Norwich.
Lascelles has been a crucial part of a Magpies defence that has conceded just 23 goals in the Championship this season – the lowest in the division and three goals-shy of doubling Norwich’s total of 43.
That said, Klose and Pinto have both been impressive in recent weeks, and deserve to be named in the combined XI.
In the midfield, the decision to include Jonjo Shelvey is a straightforward one. However, the same cannot be said for his midfield partner.
There are players from both sides that have been exceptional this season, whether it be in attack or defence, and choosing just one is no easy feat. But Alex Pritchard is the name that stands out.
The former Tottenham midfielder has contributed four goals and eight assists from 21 appearances for Norwich this season, and bagged a brace in the recent 5-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
Diame has been perhaps more fruitful for Newcastle this term, but Pritchard deserves recognition.
The attacking-midfield three is dominated by Norwich, but that is no criticism of Newcastle’s midfield talent. It is the contributions of some of Norwich’s stars that put them ahead of Rafa Benitez’s men, including Josh Murphy and Wes Hoolahan.
Murphy spent last season on loan at MK Dons after finding first-team opportunities at Carrow Road hard to come by, but since his return to the club, has established himself as a crucial senior player.
The 21-year-old winger already has eight goals and seven assists this season, and is on course to land many more.
Hoolahan, meanwhile, has three goals and eight assists from 23 appearances.
On the right-hand side is another certain inclusion in Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie. The former Bournemouth man has not perhaps been given enough praise for his efforts this season, having scored 12 goals and made eight assists for the club since arriving in the summer.
With several of Newcastle’s key players absent in recent weeks, Ritchie stood up to the plate and led from the front, netting four goals in his last four games.
Leading the line, also unsurprisingly, is Dwight Gayle. The Magpies No.9 is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, but has scored 20 goals from just 24 appearances.
He is one of the first names on the teamsheet as far as Benitez and Newcastle are concerned, and will be welcomed back into the starting XI on his return with open arms.
In other Newcastle news, Benitez has delivered a warning to this Newcastle senior man ahead of their clash with Norwich.