Newcastle are facing a midfield crisis in the next few games, and Rafa Benitez must now look to youngster Sean Longstaff as a permanent option.
Longstaff made his Premier League debut on Boxing Day and played 17 minutes in a bittersweet 4-0 loss to Liverpool.
But despite the result, it was a positive performance from the local lad.
The midfielder showed glimpses of quality and even managed to force Liverpool’s Allison into a save late on, one of the only players to do so over the 90 minutes.
The u23’s starlet may now even be in line for another appearance on Saturday against Watford.
Injury and absence has taken two key players from Newcastle this week, and Benitez is running low on midfield quality.
Usual starter Ki Sung-yueng has been called up for South Korea in the Asian Cup, and Jonjo Shelvey has just recovered from a thigh injury.
Longstaff won’t get a better chance to force his way into the team, but will Benitez give him another chance?
Hayden or Longstaff?
Rafa Benitez is known for his pragmatic approach and it would be unusual for him to hand Longstaff a start against Watford.
It will be Isaac Hayden who is instead the favourite for a spot in midfield alongside Mo Diame on Saturday.
The ex-Arsenal man started against Liverpool on Boxing Day and has plenty of Premier League experience from last season.
But to start him again against Watford would be illogical.
Hayden plays best as a defensive midfielder but he already lost this role to Diame last season.
The Senegalese midfielder was shifted from his previous number 10 role and now does most of the defensive duties in midfield.
Playing the two against Liverpool was a precautionary measure, but Benitez cant afford to play like that against Watford.
Without a more attacking midfielder, they’ll be overrun at Vicarage Road.
Longstaff the more attacking option
No matter what Benitez’s plan, Newcastle supporters will certainly be desperate to see more of Longstaff.
Longstaff played less than 20 minutes against the best team in the league and produced one of Newcastle’s only shots on target.
That’s an incredible show of confidence from a 21 year old. He obviously has no fear at stepping up to Premier League level.
With Newcastle needing a win, they need a playmaker on the field.
That’s an impressive record for a central midfielder and the sort of creativity Newcastle desperately miss.
While Ki promotes possessional play for the team, he creates very little. Newcastle’s usual lead creator Jonjo Shelvey has meanwhile came up short this season.
Newcastle are slipping back down towards the bottom three, and need a win against Watford before a tough run of January fixtures.
Even if Longstaff doesn’t start, he needs to get more minutes at Vicarage Road.
If January transfers fall through, he may be one of the only options Benitez has left.