Some of Newcastle’s fringe players once again helped guide the Toon to victory against Bournemouth, leaving Rafa Benitez with a real selection headache over the international break.
The manager was forced to play the XI players who saw out a 1-0 win against Watford last week, as key players to the squad remained injured.
Jamaal Lascelles, Jonjo Shelvey and Yoshinori Muto will now have an extra week to recover before Burnley, but should they win back their place in the team so easily?
Newcastle had been on a 10 match winless run until the introduction of Ki Sung-yueng, Fabian Schar and Ayoze Perez for the final 45 minutes against Watford.
And the three gave strong performances again on Saturday as Newcastle recorded back-to-back home wins.
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Benitez now has the dilemma of either sticking with this winning trio or bringing back players he has shown tremendous faith in early in the season.
Who truly deserves a starting place against Burnley in the Toon’s next fixture?
Should Benitez back the fringe players?
Fans had called on Benitez to majorly mix things during their winless streak, but it took injuries to his star men for it to finally happen.
The win against Watford ended up being a fortuitous one, and was more luck than tactical genius by the manager.
The fact is that players Rafa seemingly believed not good enough for the team have come out and saved him.
Ki in particular has revolutionised this Newcastle side from the midfield.
The South Korean has controlled the tempo for Newcastle going forward and maintained possession comfortably.
It’s a style of play which the team has benefited from, and Shelvey’s place in the Newcastle side really does look threatened.
Whereas Jonjo likes to sit deep and spray long passes, Ki is more comfortable moving further up the pitch and linking the play.
It’s an element the Toon have sorely missed, as they so often gave the ball away from long hopeful punts up the pitch earlier in the season.
Benitez will likely be taking a risk if he brings back Shelvey in place of him.
Schar has impressed fans with his passing ability from defence.
Many of Newcastle’s successful counter attacks against The Cherries came from direct and incisive passes from the Swiss international.
And he wasn’t afraid to drive forward himself on occasion. Since Florian Lejuene’s injury last season, the Magpies have missed this kind of ball-playing centre-back.
But he hasn’t looked entirely solid at the back.
Benitez was clearly not happy with how open the second half was against Bournemouth. He was seen giving plenty of instruction to Schar and Fernandez was also quick to berate the defender on a few occasions.
It’s up to the manager whether he is given more time to adapt to the Premier League.
While Perez still has his detractors, he certainly seems to have improved in the last two weeks.
Although he was poor in front of goal on Saturday, his all round play was much better.
When Perez is in form he often gets the nod from Benitez.
He’s the most likely to have won his place back in the side over Muto.
In defence of Benitez’s stalwarts
Lascelles is one player who perhaps deserves to come back into the side.
The Newcastle captain is clearly a more assured defender than Schar, a quality Benitez likely values more than passing ability.
The Englishman has also played a big part in the Toon’s fantastic defensive record this season and is a favourite of the manager.
Although Schar has played well, Benitez was clearly concerned by elements of his Bournemouth performance.
Lascelles would likely bring a stability to the back line which was missing on occasion on Saturday.
The recent victories have also been hard on Jonjo Shelvey.
But the midfielder is still one of Newcastle’s most talented players.
He’s one of the most creative players in the league, and averages 2.25 chances created a game. Only eight players in the league average more.
Although Ki seems to improve our overall play, he’d be lucky to match Shelvey’s rate of creativity.
It will be interesting to see then who Benitez chooses to play alongside Diame in our next fixture.