After beating Manchester United 1-0 in our last outing, Rafa Benitez could be tempted to make no changes to the side for Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth – however he could yet have a few positive selection problems to contend with before the big kick off.
Starting up top, Islam Slimani could be set to make his first start, with him stepping up his fitness levels over the past 2 weeks. That being said, Dwight Gayle put in a much better performance against Mourinho’s men last time out. He held up the ball well despite often being isolated, worked tirelessly, should have won us a penalty and grabbed a clever assist for Ritchie’s goal.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be all for Slimani starting if he’s ready to play, but Benitez’s decision to do so won’t be quite as easy after Gayle’s improved display in his last outing.
The to midfield. Shelvey and Diame put in a colossal display the weekend before last, however we can’t forget that a certain Mikel Merino is back fit and available for selection. The slick Spaniard has often looked a cut above the rest when he’s been fit this season, so he’s another player who will come into contention this weekend. I highly doubt either Shelvey or Diame will be dropped, but it shows we’re doing something right if a player of Merino’s quality can’t get into the team at the moment! Could we find a way of playing all three I wonder?
Then finally to the defence. Many were concerned to see Florian Lejeune start against Man Utd. He’d been out for two months and had looked shaky prior to his injury, however he put in a big performance to keep out the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. Ciaran Clark is back in contention after seemingly overcome a recent knee injury, however I expect Lejeune to keep his place.
Either way, there’s areas all over the pitch that have healthy levels of competition, pushing players to perform and not rest on their laurels that Rafa will play them each week. That can only be a good thing between no and the end of the season, with each and every player knowing they must perform if they wish to keep their place in the side.