Newcastle expected 4-2-3-1 v Rotherham: Benitez rings the changes
By Matt Farr
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez is expected to make seven changes to his side following their 3-1 victory over Birmingham in their FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday.
Regular first-team faces Karl Darlow, Paul Dummett, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, Ayoze Perez and Daryl Murphy are all expected to return to face Rotherham in the Championship on Saturday.
Matz Sels, Grant Hanley, Achraf Lazaar, Stuart Findlay, Cheick Tiote, Yasin Ben El-Mhanni and Dan Barlaser are all expected to drop out of the starting line-up after being handed rare opportunities midweek.
Four stars are likely to retain their places, and they are Yoan Gouffran, Matt Ritchie, Jonjo Shelvey and DeAndre Yedlin.
Benitez now has the pleasure of three quality goalkeepers at his disposal, following the return of Rob Elliot from a long-term injury. But the Newcastle boss is likely to stick with his primary Championship stopper Karl Darlow, after Matz Sels got the nod earlier in the week.
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Meanwhile, Benitez is also set to recall his regular central-defensive pairing, Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark. The pair have formed a solid partnership over the course of the campaign, and will be looking to avenge their run of five league games without a clean-sheet.
Paul Dummett is expected to replace Achraf Lazaar on the left-hand side of the back-four, with DeAndre Yedlin retaining his place on the right.
Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is set to make his first Championship appearance since his five-match suspension for racial abuse, and his return will be a major boost in the Magpies’ bid to retain their place at the top of the league.
He played in the midweek win over Birmingham, and ran the show from his deep-lying midfield position.
Fellow midfielder Isaac Hayden has also been impressive this season, and should return at the expense of Cheick Tiote. The Ivorian was given a rare start and perhaps a last ditch attempt to impress Benitez amid ongoing speculation regarding his future, but does not look like returning to the first-team picture any time soon.
With Christian Atsu and Mo Diame absent at the Africa Cup of Nations, Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran are expected to continue in the Newcastle attack, but Daryl Murphy and Ayoze Perez are set to be welcomed back at the expense of youngsters Barlaser and El-Mhanni.
Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic are both sidelined with injury, so 33-year-old Murphy will shoulder the goalscoring burden for a second consecutive league game.
A win for Newcastle would see them return to the top of the Championship if Brighton beat Sheffield Wednesday on Friday night – or move further in front if their rivals drop points.
In other Newcastle team news, the Magpies are considering a loan-to-buy offer for this Premier League midfielder.