Goal-scoring duo axed as forgotten men return in Benitez 4-2-2-2: Best Possible Newcastle XI v Cardiff
COMMENT by Russell Edge
With the title still on the line for Newcastle, Rafael Benitez will be going for broke in the penultimate game of the season.
It’s quite simply a game they have to win – nothing else matters.
However, with promotion secured on Monday night, these final two games also offer Benitez the chance to experiment with his squad, as he ponders life in the Premier League next season.
In addition, Newcastle’s chances of catching the Seagulls are slim, with four points separating the sides with just two games left to play.
With this in mind, Benitez should try something new at the Cardiff City Stadium, and adopt a 4-2-2-2 formation, utilising a mix of first-team starters and fringe players to establish who should remain with the club in the top flight next season.
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Sammy Ameobi, Jesus Gamez, Yoan Gouffran and Matz Sels all make the step up to the starting XI, replacing Ayoze Perez, Vurnon Anita, Matt Ritchie and Rob Elliot.
Up top, Aleksandar Mitrovic should be joined by Yoan Gouffran, with the Frenchman needing to prove a point to Rafa Benitez with his contract running out in June.
Not necessarily an out and out striker, Gouffran is a hard worker who can hassle the back line of Cardiff, plus he has a vicious strike on him.
Mitrovic needs as much game time going into next season as possible, while the formation will allow Benitez to judge whether a front two, as oppose to the solitary striker he has insisted on using this season, could work for the Magpies.
At the back, Matz Sels should return to the nets after being dropped from the starting XI following a shaky start to the season.
The Belgian goalkeeper is one of five goalkeepers contracted to the club, and Benitez should give him a chance to prove himself at the end of the season before a transfer window where at least one of the five is likely to depart.
Jesus Gamez is another who has struggled to prove his point on Tyneside this season, with the experienced defender suffering an injury setback to keep him out of contention.
Despite this the 32-year-old, who won a Champions League runners up medal with Atletico Madrid, could still have a part to play at St James’ Park, and how better for Benitez to judge that than by restoring him to the the starting XI?
In the middle of the park, Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden retain their spots as they look to rekindle their effective partnership ahead of next season’s top flight challenge.
However, those on the flanks have much more to prove, with Christian Atsu and Sammy Ameobi fighting for their futures on Tyneside.
Atsu is on loan from Chelsea, while Tyneside local Ameobi sees his contract expire in the summer, and these final two games are perfect for Benitez to see whether either of them deserve to stay at St James’ Park next season.
Goal-scoring duo Matt Ritchie, who deserves a rest after an outstanding season, and Ayoze Perez, who scored twice in the 4-1 win over Preston, are also near-certainties to return to the Premier League with Newcastle, hence their omission.
In other Newcastle news, staff at the club circulated a hilarious text message amid the raid from HMRC.