The starting 11 Rafa Benitez might just go with against Crystal Palace today

Rafa Benitez has a few difficult decisions to make ahead of today’s game with Crystal Palace and I’ve got a feeling he’s going to make two changes.

Here’s the team I think he *might* just pick and my explanation below as to why he could opt for this:

IN Merino & Clark – OUT Hayden & Manquillo

Both Ciaran Clark and Mikel Merino were rested at Southampton last week, however the two that came in – Florian Lejeune and Isaac Hayden – were arguably two of our best player that day.

Despite Hayden’s solid return to the team last weekend, I can’t see past Merino returning. The forward thinking partnership of Merino and Shelvey worked against Liverpool and you’d think it’d be used once again against a bottom of the league Palace side we’ll be looking to beat.

Now to Lejeune, who I think will keep his place in the side.

Despite his costly and clumsy error, he really impressed me at Southampton. He’s a ball player and will help us keep possession or spring counter attacks, a reader of the game and a tall bloke who’ll win headers in both boxes. He’s looks to have been signed with every intention of becoming our first choice centre-back and I believe Benitez will begin to integrate him into the side as best he can now he’s fully recovered from that awkward Harry Kane tackle on the opening day.

It’d be harsh on Clark to miss out – with the Irishman being one of our most consistent performers over the past 12 months – but I’m not sure he actually will? I think he *might* be used at left-back in an attempt to cope with the dangerous Wilfried Zaha?

Manquillo has done a steady job in the last two games, but he does have a tendency to switch off positionally from time to time with the odd foray forward or the odd lapse in concentration catching him out. Fortunately, Mo Salah didn’t punish this in our last home outing, but the unpredictable Wilfried Zaha might.

Pace wise, Clark up against Zaha looks a slight mis-match, but this is a position he’s played in several times before and his superior defensive awareness to that of Manquillo’s, combined with the fact he is actually is left-footed, may just be Rafa’s attempt to help us cope with that threat?

We like to stay compact and narrow so I think Rafa may just look to use Clark to try and mark Zaha out of the game?

I might be wrong, but it could make sense. Let us know your thoughts folks!

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About Olly Hawkins

Olly has been a Junior Magpie from birth. As a season ticket holder and avid Newcastle United fan - he eats, sleeps and breathes all things NUFC.

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