Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez should spring a series of surprises in his starting line up if he hopes to pick up a shock result against Manchester City on Wednesday.
The Magpies come up against league leaders for their second game in four days, having beaten West Ham on Saturday, with Pep Guardiola’s side in imperious form.
The Citizens have notched up 17 consecutive league victories and are yet to be beaten by any of their top flight rivals, building up a 14 point lead at the top of the table, the biggest gap at Christmas in the history of the Premier League.
Newcastle meanwhile were able to escape the relegation zone with three points away at the Hammers, their first win in 10 games, but will be coming up against a much sterner test at St James’ Park.
As such, providing the squad are fully fit, Benitez needs to bring back a quartet of stars in a surprise 4-3-3 formation, with Joselu, Henri Saivet, Mohamed Diame and Javi Manquillo being replaced by Mikel Merino, Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Paul Dummett.
At the back, long term absentee Dummett should return at left back, with DeAndre Yedlin’s display against West Ham saving him from losing out in the right back slot to the axed Manquillo.
The midfield will be where Newcastle can frustrate City and nullify their attacking threat, and Merino, Hayden and Shelvey, returning from injury and suspension, can carry out the necessary duties to break up play and launch counter attacks.
If the Magpies are to secure a shock result they will be relying on pace for swift counter attacks, and Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie, backed up by Yedlin and Dummett, will all provide support for Dwight Gayle to poach a goal which could snatch a point or more.
It is a tough ask, but with the spirit and character of the Magpies, they could spring a surprise – it’s down to Benitez to pick the right side to carry it out.
In other Newcastle United news, Alan Shearer has revealed that the club were on the brink of securing two top flight strikers in summer.