By Russell Edge
Former Arsenal star and current Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson has questioned Newcastle United boss Rafael Benitez’s decision to not play striker Aleksandar Mitrovic recently.
The Serbian striker has only appeared in four of the club’s matches this season, three of those in the league, and made his first outing in three games off the bench against Manchester United last Saturday, in which he was given seven minutes during the 4-1 defeat.
The result left the Magpies in 11th place, three places and four points behind Saturday’s visitors to St James’ Park Watford, who themselves come into the clash off the back of a 2-0 win over West Ham.
Ahead of the match on Tyneside, Merson doubted whether the Newcastle boss had taken the right approach with his team selection, suggesting that the physical presence of the 23-year-old Serb could help fellow forward Dwight Gayle, who netted the Magpies’ goal against the Red Devils last weekend.
Predicting a 2-1 win for Watford, he wrote on the Sky Sports website: “I fancy Watford to win this. I watched Newcastle v Bournemouth the other week at St James’, Bournemouth had some really good chances in that game, and I think Watford are a better side.
“I don’t really see much up front for Newcastle, and I’m not sure why Rafa Benitez doesn’t play Mitrovic more. He’s a presence and can put himself about.
“I think Dwight Gayle maybe needs someone beside him to bully people, and then hit them with his pace.”
Mitrovic has scored two goals in his four appearances, but was handed a retrospective three-match ban after being found guilty of violent conduct in the clash against West Ham, with Joselu and Gayle appearing to jump ahead in the pecking order.
In other Newcastle United news, the club are looking to bin their £40,000-a-week midfielder.