With only nine days to go now until Newcastle visit Fulham, the minutes on the pitch for each United player in the friendlies so far suggests nine places filled and maybe two undecided.
So who are the leading contenders so far and who is it that doesn’t appear to be a part of Rafa’s first team plans?
There is only Saturday’s home friendly with Vitesse Arnhem left to help prepare and surely the team that starts that game, must look very like the eleven who will line up at Craven Cottage
Newcastle have played Bohemians, Doncaster Rovers, Sporting Lokeren and Southend so far, with a maximum of 360 minutes available for each player.
A few things to take into consideration: recent signing Grant Hanley played his first 27 minutes for Newcastle last night, whilst Matt Ritchie has missed the last two friendlies with a knock – Adam Armstrong wasn’t available for the Bohemians game.
Kevin Mbabu played for the Under 21s at the weekend but hasn’t as yet been part of the first team friendly schedule, whilst Siem de Jong, Tim Krul, Rob Elliot, Massadio Haidara and Emmanuel Riviere are all out injured, with Moussa Sissoko still to return (if he ever will) after the Euros. Mitrovic of course suspended for the first four games.
Looking at the list below, I think all of the players with over 200 minutes in the friendlies so far are going to be playing against Fulham.
Then I fancy either Hayden or Colback (the next two on the list) to also make the team, with Rafa having also to find a left-back – that position looking wide open with Sterry, Dummett, Gamez and even Anita being possibilities.
If Matt Ritchie (hopefully) proves his fitness then that would surely see him back in the team, with any number of options available for Rafa to make room for him.
We are of course also primed for more new signings, with Rafa Benitez having confirmed that the time is close for another wave of transfers in and out.
However, with the season start being so close, I think the likes of Grant Hanley and any other new signings will be looking beyond Fulham to force a way into the starting eleven.
Minutes played in first team pre-season friendlies so far: