There may be distractions aplenty at St James’ Park this week, but Rafa Benitez must still prepare his Newcastle United side for a daunting trip to Manchester City on Saturday.

And the last six matches have certainly given the Magpies boss food for thought, with Newcastle losing just once but struggling to find rhythm in the attacking third.

One player who has emerged with real credit over recent weeks has been Jacob Murphy, and yet against Swansea City, last weekend, the winger was not called from the bench.

In his place, Christian Atsu blew hot and cold, while Matt Ritchie misfired as he too often has this term.

And whether in Manchester or in the days and weeks that follow, Benitez must be wondering if the time has come for Murphy to replace Ritchie in his first team.

Scottish international Ritchie is Newcastle’s leading contributor in terms of assists this season, but the former Bournemouth man’s best work has largely come from set-pieces as he continues to struggle with the pace of the Premier League.

That is in stark contrast to Murphy, who is starting to run top-flight defences ragged, with his powerful running evidenced in a match-winning performance at Stoke City.

Given that Murphy then impressed against Luton Town in the FA Cup, too, it was somewhat surprising to see Ritchie preferred when Swansea visited Tyneside.

And Ritchie missed the opportunity to consolidate his position in the side with a poor display in which even his dead ball deliveries were below par.

Murphy has been patient and did not deserve to lose his place after five consecutive starts at the start of December; he looks prepared to take his next chance when it arrives.

If Benitez is picking his side on form, the boyhood Newcastle fan will not have to wait much longer…

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