First things first; what a week for Newcastle United this has been with the correct decision to relieve McClaren of his duties followed by the most ambitious managerial appointment since that of Sir Bobby Robson.
Even if they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory by taking an age to put Steve out of his misery, it was a tremendous piece of business to acquire the services of one of the most respected managers on the continent. The question now is, can Newcastle get anything from the game at Leicester and how will Rafa set out his new side against the league leaders?
The Monday night fixture has at least given Rafa a couple of extra days to assess his squad ahead of the clash and Benitez has been photographed on the training ground putting his new players through their paces.
Injuries will certainly play their part in Rafa’s first team selection although there are interesting stories suggesting that some players who had been injured during McClaren’s final days, have now declared themselves fit.
Newcastle’s main concerns lie in defence where it seems all three left backs are injured, though Mbabu was one of those back in training. Colo was also seen in his training gear and Mbemba may be in line to return to the starting line-up.
The lack of defensive options does appear to hinder Benitez as he looks to stifle a Leicester side who have lost just one of their fourteen home games this season. The obvious concern to Benitez will be the speed and direct nature of the Foxes’ attack.
Newcastle’s back line simply could not cope with Bournemouth running at them last weekend and the thought of Mahrez and Vardy bearing down on an exposed Elliot and his frame had us all waking up in cold sweats before Rafa’s appointment offered some timely comfort.
Liverpool under Benitez were solid at the back and Newcastle will need to be compact if they are to get anything from the game.
It’s higher up the field where Rafa has plenty of options to solve Newcastle’s away day goal-scoring blues. We have lost six straight away games and have been dire on the road all season.
It will be intriguing to see whether Benitez goes for two up-front or deploys Gini or even De Jong in the hole.
De Jong is lacking match fitness and is more likely to start on the bench but he could be an important player for Benitez in the run-in.
Where will he play Sissoko? Some sections have been calling for the big Frenchman to be dropped. I have never really been sure about playing Sissoko out on the right wing, I don’t think that’s his natural position.
Rafa might be the one who moves big Moussa back inside and gets the best out of him. Who will get the nod up front? Mitro needs support and Perez would struggle on his own so Benitez may choose to play both and hopefully Townsend will be fit enough to start to provide that width and dribbling ability to the side.
It will be fascinating to see what Benitez does tactically and motivationally. We will certainly learn a lot from the game tomorrow and I, for one, cannot wait. Come on the Toon!