Despite three wins on the bounce in November and a great point at Everton, two defeats in our last two at St James’ Park have left us desperate for points ahead of what looks set to be a very tough run from Christmas onwards.
Our next two games are massive, and the trip to Huddersfield is one where anything other than 3 points would have to be seen as a real disappointment.
They’ve lost their last three and are without their star man Aaron Mooy, with several other injuries meaning they’re facing a bit of an injury crisis in the middle of the park ahead of this one.
It’s a big game and a relegation six-pointer for some, however it’s reassuring to remember that Rafa often helped deliver big wins at this time of the season last year (remember those crucial away wins over West Ham and Stoke around this time last year).
I’m confident but cautious given our unpredictable form of late. Let’s hope the manager of the month award doesn’t prove to be a curse for Benitez.
As ever, here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
With Fernandez and Shelvey out, parts of our team will pick itself for this one – although Dummett could be used as a left-sided centre-back if Rafa does stick with three at the back.
Lascelles must up his game but could be helped by the return of the all-action Fabian Schar, whose ability to play as a right-sided centre back may allow the skipper to come back into a more familiar central role.
Yedlin’s absence could be an issue. He has a tendency to switch, but his likely replacement in Javier Manquillo fills me with very little confident – even on his favoured side.
I can see Kenedy coming back into this one. It would be harsh on Atsu – who’s done surprisingly well in our last two – however Kenedy’s fresh legs could be the deciding factor given he’s not started for a few weeks now.
Up top, you’d have to fancy us to unsettle Huddersfield’s back line IF Rondon and Perez can combine as they did against Wolves last weekend.
Predicted NUFC team – (3-4-2-1) – Dubravka – Schar, Lascelles, Clark – Manquillo, Ki, Diame, Ritchie – Kenedy, Perez – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in this injury-hit Huddersfield side:
Philip Billing: The tall but talented midfielder is someone I’ve always been impressed with whenever I watch Huddersfield. Looks slick on the ball for his size and will be under pressure to perform with Mooy out.
Alex Pritchard: He’s their diminutive number 10 and the player they’ll look to get on the ball in the gaps between midfield and defence to unlock the door. Looks a handy player.
Laurent Depoitre: Built like a rugby player and an absolute powerhouse as you’d expect. He’s yet to score this season but could be the man Huddersfield turn to with Mounie suspended. The likes of Clark or Schar could struggle with him physically if they are direct.
Predicted Huddersfield XI – (3-5-1-1) – Lossl – Jorgensen, Schindler, Kongolo – Hadergjonaj, Bacuna, Billing, Hogg – Durm – Pritchard – Depoitre.
Fabian Schar is back from a ban and Paul Dummett could start after a week’s training, however Fernandez and Shelvey are out with injuries – with Yedlin set to miss out via suspension.
Aaron Mooy, Tommy Smith and Danny Williams are all out with long-term knee injuries, with striker Steve Mounie suspended.
Jonathan Hogg and Terence Kongolo have been passed fit – with talented midfielder Philip Billing back after a one-match ban.
I don’t expect this one to be a classic, but I fancy us to get the better of them in a low scoring game.
I believe we have more quality in attacking areas, a defence capable of keeping them out and although we may miss Fernandez, the absence of their star midfielder Aaron Mooy could be an even bigger miss, with him being the man who makes them tick.
Prediction: Huddersfield 0-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!