Could this be the Newcastle team v Birmingham after pre-match comments from Rafa Benitez?

With Jonjo Shelvey suspended and the trio away in Gabon for the African Cup of Nations, the manager’s options have already been cut.

Rafa spoke ahead of the game (see full comments below) and confirmed:

“I wouldn’t lie and say that we will play our strongest team – because there are players involved in so many games and you would be risking them.

“Some of the others (in the fringes of the squad) will play, I can’t say how many but I want to see them playing and giving everything.”

What Rafa Benitez did confirm for sure though, was that Rob Elliot wouldn’t be playing as he isn’t ready yet, Ayoze Perez has a calf problem, whilst Dwight Gayle will be rested.

The United boss then stated that Mitrovic would definitely be in the starting eleven but said that it had been a choice of either him or Daryl Murphy, with the indication being that the Irishman will be on the bench.

Looking at the possibilities and trying to complete the jigsaw, it becomes apparent that the Manager hasn’t got an awful lot of options. He could really surprise us and put young inexperienced players in – but in that he is also hindered as the likes likes of Toney, Sterry and Ameobi have all returned from loan spells but are cup-tied.

With Gayle rested, Perez injured and Diame & Atsu away, I think we are set to see a much changed supporting cast for the main striker, in this case Aleksandar Mitrovic.

It looks as though Gouffran and Ritchie will have to play and I fancy Achraf Lazaar to play in an advanced role on the left, which he has done a number of times in his career.

Further back in the team you maybe ask who Rafa would most like to give a rest to/take out the firing line?

I think 21 year old Isaac Hayden is a prime candidate for that and Anita is a live contender to play with Colback in the middle.

Grant Hanley will surely get a game and it is a toss of the coin whether Lascelles or Clark are rested, it would probably have been both if Mbemba was available.

Yedlin and Sels look certain to play, whilst I think Dummett would have been in line for a day off but Rafa hasn’t any choice probably, unless he puts Lazaar or Clark there and uses others elsewhere in the team. On paper Massadio Haidara is a contender but difficult to see him being anywhere near match fit enough to be able to play.

Possible Newcastle team v Birmingham after Rafa comments:

newcastle team v birmingham

Rafa Benitez comments ahead of the FA Cup third round:

“Mitrovic will play.

“I won’t risk Gayle because he’s playing so many games in the league and doing so well and I think it is fair to give an opportunity to Mitrovic or to Murphy.

“If they’re working hard  in every training session with the hope that they can play, then they have the opportunity to play, that’s great.

“I try to win every game and this competition is quite exciting…but at the same time we want to go through using the squad.

“I wouldn’t lie and say that we will play our strongest team – because there are players involved in so many games and you would be risking them.

“I want to be sure that everybody has an opportunity, that the players who aren’t playing will have the opportunity to give everything.

“Rob Elliot will be with the Under 23s against Brighton  (home at noon today), I told him that he needs more games and then afterwards he can compete with the other two.

“The only one who will not be available is Ayoze (Perez) who has some discomfort in his calf and we don’t want to risk him.

“Some of the others (in the fringes of the squad) will play, I can’t say how many but I want to see them playing and giving everything.”