By Matt Farr
Rafa Benitez should make three changes to his Newcastle starting eleven for their upcoming Championship clash with promotion rivals Fulham on Saturday.
Newcastle should recall injured trio Dwight Gayle, Vurnon Anita and Christian Atsu to the line up, at the expense of Yoan Gouffran, Daryl Murphy and Jack Colback.
As many as eight players should retain their places in the side following the 0-0 draw with Reading at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday.
Benitez will have to choose between Karl Darlow, Matz Sels and Rob Elliot for the No.1 jersey on Saturday, but it will likely be the former that continues in the role.
The 26-year-old has been Newcastle’s premier stopper of late, appearing in their last 27 Championship matches. He has kept five clean sheets since the start of 2017.
The defence should also be left unchanged, after keeping Reading’s attack at bay during their most recent outing. Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark have formed a strong partnership at the heart of the defence, and will be key to keeping a clean sheet against Fulham.
Jesus Gamez, meanwhile, gave a pleasing display on his long-awaited return to action against Reading, and could make only his fourth Championship appearances of the season. Paul Dummett should also continue.
Finding a suitable midfield partner for Jonjo Shelvey has been a problem area for Newcastle in the recent absence of Isaac Hayden, and Colback has failed to convince.
Therefore, Anita should be reinstated to the central midfield following a spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
He has been one of Newcastle’s more reliable faces this season, and his availability will be a considerable boost.
Mo Diame is another possible option for Benitez, but his lack of appearances in the role over the course of the season could hamper his side against a strong Fulham midfield unit.
Atsu and Gayle will also be welcomed back into the starting eleven from injury, as Benitez puts all his cards on the table in pursuit of victory.
The duo had both been sidelined through injury in recent weeks, but after making brief cameo appearances against Reading, could be deemed fit to have a larger role against Fulham.
Ayoze Perez will continue in the No.10 role for Newcastle, after regaining his place in the side with a series impressive displays.
A thriving Matt Ritchie must also be given license to run at Fulham’s full-backs, having already accumulated 13 goals and 10 assists this season.
Three points for the Magpies will see them extend their lead over Brighton up to as many six points, and their lead over third-placed Huddersfield to 12 points.
A Fulham victory, on the other hand, will open the door back up to Brighton in the title race, but would still keep Newcastle in a strong position in their bid for automatic promotion to the Premier League.
In other Newcastle team news, the club have come to a decision over the future of this 22-year-old.