This is the predicted Newcastle team v Watford for Saturday afternoon.
Rafa Benitez has used a pretty settled side for the past couple of months, with minimal changes.
Starting with the win over Man Utd in early February, the Newcastle boss has used the exact same back five, with then Kenedy, Diame, Ritchie, Shelvey, Perez, and Gayle, the others making up the team – with rare exceptions.
However, I do think that Rafa will have had a few changes under consideration for this one on Saturday.
He has talked of the team losing their ‘intensity’ as they made it two defeats and two poor defeats, with a loss to West Brom following the one at Goodison Park.
With Premier League football guaranteed already for next season, this looks a game where he might rest one or more, as well as giving others a run out.
Islam Slimani might have been one of those to get a run out but Thursday morning has seen confirmation he will miss the rest of the season, due to kicking out at West Brom’s Craig Dawson.
Both Christian Atsu and Mikel Merino could also have maybe been under consideration as well, especially Merino, but even if the pair recover from the injuries that kept them out last Saturday, I can’t see them starting. Rafa Benitez having made clear he won’t be taking any chances if players aren’t 100%.
Speaking of which, Paul Dummett was totally out of sorts against West Brom and the first subbed. Whether he was carrying a knock or not, I can see him getting a rest against Watford.
Kenedy filled in at left-back after that substitution but he is wasted there, as well as not looking like a natural defender anyway.
Javier Manquillo made PL 19 starts earlier in the season but nothing since the defeat at Man City, I think he could well get a run out.
Always a chance as well that Ciaran Clark could be given a game but maybe the odds are against that, if Rafa is seeing this Lejeune and Lascelles partnership as also first choice next season.
If Merino had been fully fit then I definitely could have seen him playing in the middle, at the expense of either Shelvey or Diame. Not that either of them deserve to be dropped but just to give the Spaniard a game and allow Rafa to see how things would work with something different.
I think the most likely player to get a first start for a while is Jacob Murphy. He did really well at Stoke and then scored a cracking goal at Man City, only to then get only one more start at Anfield.
As a young player he could do with more games and experience and away from home is ideal, Murphy bore the brunt of some late crowd frustration when making a couple of mistakes against West Brom when coming off the bench. Watford could be an ideal game for him to line up on the right.
I can’t really see any value in playing Joselu, as I doubt very much if he will be near the first team starting positions next season, so that simplifies things a little.
I think Dwight Gayle will start and a decent chance of Matt Ritchie moving inside, with Perez dropping to the bench.
Perez has been really poor these last two games and Ritchie at least finished the West Brom game strongly. He has been used behind the main striker once or twice this season and not looked too bad, so to accommodate Murphy I think he will get another go in that position.
The predicted Newcastle team v Watford:
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