Mainstay duo axed as Benitez throws caution to the wind: Newcastle best XI v Everton
The fact that Newcastle United need just one more point to secure their Premier League safety with five games left to play is an amazing achievement – and could do so on Monday night when they take on Everton.
The Magpies looked in dire straits in the build up to Christmas, picking up just one point from a possible 27 on a run which saw them lose eight games in nine matches, but the turnaround since the start of 2018 has been sensational.
With just two defeats since New Year’s Day, to high flying Liverpool and Manchester City no less, the north east club are now pushing for a top ten finish, something even Rafael Benitez would have thought a stretch considering the frustrations suffered in the summer and winter transfer windows.
Monday’s trip to Goodison Park sees them come up against an Everton side who, despite sitting in ninth, one point above Newcastle, have been bitterly disappointed by their campaign, and it seems a summer of change is around the corner.
So who does Benitez send out to try and beat the Toffees and leapfrog them in the table?
Well, Benitez needs to throw caution to the wind by risking Islam Slimani up front for his first start as well as recent absentee Mikel Merino, axing mainstay duo Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame in the process.
The back five look incredibly settled and any changes there would dent hopes, but in the centre of the park Merino’s energy and vision can sit alongside Shelvey’s flair, as well as giving Diame a well deserved rest after some all action displays.
Kenedy has been a game changer since signing from Chelsea in January while Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie have both enjoyed a hot streak of late, the Spaniard scoring three goals in as many games.
Up front Slimani, who has just two substitute appearances to his name so far, should be given the chance to shine in what could be his final couple of outings – unless he impresses enough to seal a permanent move.
In other Newcastle United news, crucial talks are imminent over the future of the club in two ways.