With Rafa Benitez providing injury updates on a whole host of players in yesterday’s presser, we now have a decent idea of who’s fit and who’s not for today’s crucial clash with Cardiff.
Shelvey and Dummett are out, Diame will be assessed after returning to training over the past two days and Rafa is ‘optimistic’ that Lascelles, Clark, Hayden and Schar will all be fine after recent knocks.
With this and the fact we have Ki and Muto at the Asian Cup in mind, here’s the side we could see start against Cardiff at St James’ Park come 3pm:
(5-2-2-1 ) Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Lejeune, Ritchie – Diame, Longstaff – Perez, Atsu – Rondon
Diame’s return could be huge – but it will all depend on whether he does pass a late fitness test. Rafa may not risk him and opt to have Hayden partnering Longstaff instead, but big Mo’s presence could be key against a physical Cardiff side.
Many will be surprised to see me go without Schar – someone whose ball playing ability can be key at home. However, Cardiff are a physical side who’ll throw balls into the box, so I can’t see us going without the likes of Lascelles (if fit) or Fernandez. Lejeune also seems likely to play given how good he’s looked on his return from a serious knee injury – not forgetting the fact he got a rest in midweek while Schar played the full 120 minutes.
The rest of the team pretty much picks itself right now for me, with Atsu earning his spot over Kenedy and Ritchie likely to operate as a wing-back once again – providing Rafa does stick with five at the back..