I see only three players as certain starters for Newcastle United but can’t quite work out yet whether that is a major problem…or strength.

In recent seasons, Newcastle didn’t really have a proper squad and with combined with a reluctance by Pardew, Carver and McClaren to drop established players, it meant you could usually easily predict which 11 players would be turning out for NUFC.

The arrival of Rafa Benitez and a substantial turnover of players has changed all that.

Rafa has shown that reputations and price tags mean nothing, having dropped the likes of Shelvey, Wijnaldum and others last season. Whilst this season the process has continued, dropping Captain Jamaal Lascelles after only two matches and making any number of team changes in the last couple of games after poor performances and defeats.

Looking at the players in the squad and now having knowledge of the way Rafa Benitez goes about things, I reckon there are only three (at the most…) Newcastle players who are certainties to start each game.

Top of that list is obviously Matt Ritchie, easily Newcastle’s best player in all three matches, he looks a class above the rest of the squad, certainly going forward.

Dwight Gayle is another of the three, even when Mitrovic is fit I think it will be the former Palace striker who is number one choice up front and will be selected every week.

The third and final certainty for me is Chancel Mbemba. He was left out at Fulham having not trained in the lead up to the match but must surely start every game when fully fit. He showed he was comfortably Newcastle’s best defender last season and he is far more mobile and skilful than Lascelles, Hanley and Clark.

After that trio I struggle to identify any others. I find myself seeing little in between those competing for places and only time will tell whether this means we’ve simply got a lot of players who are more than good enough but not stand out individuals, or whether we have a squad that will struggle to get the job done because not enough quality in there.

Other contenders?

I suppose Matz Sels could possible be, at least in Rafa’s eyes, but most fans are yet to be inspired by him. I don’t think I have seen him make a proper save yet and maybe a feeling he could have done a bit better on one or two of the goals. Karl Darlow must feel hard done by after doing well at the end of last season. I reckon one or two errors for Sels could see Darlow given another chance.

Mitrovic might be many fans’ idea of a certain starter but I have my doubts. I would certainly play him once out of suspension as Newcastle need two up front and Perez has been shocking so far but the Serbian still has to improve a lot on last season if he is to justify his transfer fee. If Rafa chooses to play just one up front then with Mitrovic’ lack of mobility I don’t see how he could choose the former Anderlecht striker. With strong rumours of another striker arriving, that will almost certainly see Mitrovic spending less time on the pitch.

As for others, I can’t really see any possibilities.

I would have had Janmaat on my list but after being left out against Reading that rules this one out. Isaac Hayden has done ok in the middle but not anything to make you think he is sure of his place, whilst surely Paul Dummett won’t still be playing after the transfer window closes…

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