Rafa Benitez has been greeted in the North East as the club’s saviour. Comparisons are already being made to Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson on Tyneside, as Newcastle now seemingly have hope in a season that look consigned to the scrapheap under Steve McClaren.
However, all the fanfare stops tonight and the Spaniard gets down to business. The former Real Madrid boss did not have to take charge of the team at Leicester this evening, he could have sat in the stands and watched as the Magpies undoubtedly ran around like headless chickens as the pace and guile of the league leaders pulled them apart with ease. However, Benitez has showed an eagerness to get stuck in from the very off. He cancelled the players day off to work with them on the day he was appointed and he will be in full control in the Midlands this evening.
It will be interesting to see the impact that he has had in such a short space of time. Judging him after tonight would be absolute lunacy, in fact judging him after this season would be wildly unfair. Nevertheless, the ex-Liverpool boss will have studied the Foxes intently and he will have a gameplan, and will no doubt fancy his side to come away with something from the King Power.
Here is the team that he should pick to kick-start the Rafa revolution:
Goalkeeper – Rob Elliot
This is the easiest one of the lot for the new manager. As is often the case when a team is in a relegation scrap, Elliot has been one of the best performers this season. Yes, he is overly worked, facing more shots than any other Premier League stopped, but he has excelled since replacing the injured Tim Krul.
There were fears over his suitability when the Dutchman was injured but ask any Geordie and he would be in the top three for the player of the year award this term (something that shouldn't exist after this campaign). He has not let his side down at all but rather has been let down by those in front of him.
Right-back – Janmaat
Defending is something that Newcastle have done badly throughout the season, in fact at times it is questionable as to whether they have done it at all. They have been breached 53 times this season, with 32 goals conceded in just 14 games on the road. It’s clear where the issues lie.
The Dutchman is often lauded as one of the club’s better players, and that is true. He is excellent going forward, indeed at times he is the team’s best attacking threat, but his defending can be questionable.
In his defence, that is most probably down to the lack of protection in front of him and he looks the sort of player who would thrive in a decent side. There is a reason Juve want him in the summer and he is a dead cert in Rafa’s starting XI.
Centre-back - Taylor
This is where the real issues lie. Fabricio Coloccini won’t be back for this one we are led to believe, and quite honesty he has been one of the problems. That leaves the right sided berth to a toss-up between Steven Taylor and Jamal Lasecelles.
The more experienced man gets the nod, for that exact reason. Lasccelles has struggled in a poor side, which hasn’t been great for his development. Expect Rafa to go with the older head. In fairness the local lad performs best when he has his back to the wall, which he will here.
Centre-back – Mbemba
In a dour season the young Congolese has been a small shining light at times for the St James’ Park faithful. He is by no means the finished product but he has shown glimpses of his talent and looks as if he could become a very good Premier League defender.
Mbemba is still very raw but his pace will help deal with Vardy, who will find a way of getting in behind, no matter how deep the team sits. Hopefully he's fit enough to start.
Left-back – Mbabu
The fact that Newcastle did not sign a left-back in January is baffling. It is even more worrying now that the supposed holder of that position Paul Dummett is injured. Playing Colback and Anita there is budget at best, so supporters will be delighted that Kevin Mbabu has returned to fitness.
The Swiss youngster is highly-rated and has showed flashes of class in his three outings so far. His two starts have come against Chelsea and Man City, with him really impressing in the former. There’s little choice, but he deserves a shot.
Central Midfield – Saviet
The Senegalese has barely been seen in black and white since his arrival from Bordeaux, which is a real shame because he is a very decent footballer. Benitez will look to add steel and protect the back four, something Saviet can do well.
He comes in for the walking ego that is Moussa Sissoko. Clearly the Frenchman wants out of the club and his delusions of grandeur have seen him churn out terrible performance after terrible performance, yet still get picked. Dropping him would delight Newcastle fans and increase the team’s work-rate instantly.
Central Midfield – Colback
The ex-Sunderland man has gone from the ‘Ginger Pirlo’ to a relegation battle in double quick time but he is still a decent footballer, even if he hasn’t shown it in recent weeks.
Colback knows what it means to the supporters, being one himself, and Benitez will look to use his passion as he did with Gerrard and Carragher at Liverpool. He will be charged with breaking the play up and forming the base of the attacks.
Attacking/Central Midfield – Shelvey
Rafa very much operates with a 4-2-3-1 and you would expect that will be the same at Newcastle. However, against Leicester he may choose to play Shelvey as the slightly more advance of the three, instead of in a deeper lying playmaking role. The system could alternate between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-5-1 with a tight midfield three.
Using the former Swansea man in a slightly more attacking role will make the Toon more compact when defending than if a player such as Wijnaldum operated in that positon. Shelvey, Colback and Saviet all have the ability to rotate in that central area.
Right Wing – Doumbia
Seydou Doumbia looked a peach of a signing in January, but no one told Steve McClaren, who seemed to persist with Sissoko on the flank. Andros Townsend is probably not up to a start yet and the ex-CSKA Moscow flyer can give Christian Fuchs something to worry about.
Pinning back Leicester’s full-backs and stopping the balls into the channel will be pivotal at the King Power, while Doumbia’s electric pace and ability to support the striker would be be useful. He'd scored 11 goals in 21 games for CSKA and laid on four assists before joining in January
Left Wing – Wijnaldum
Newcastle’s best outfield player by a mile this term, Wijnaldum must be wondering what he was doing joining the club in the summer. He could clearly play at a much higher level but his head has never dropped.
Yes, he’s better centrally but needs must at Leicester and it makes more sense to play three genuine central midfielders. He can still roam and interchange with Doumbia and Perez up top.
Striker – Perez
Aleksandar Mitrovic came to St James’ Park with a huge reputation and despite some good early performances he has failed to live up to the role of being a Newcastle centre-forward. However, he should not be discarded, he will play a part in the run-in, but maybe from the bench here.
Robert Huth and Wes Morgan would eat up anything aerial so instead it makes sense to go for the guile and pace Perez. The Spaniard has bags of potential and the knack for scoring important goals. He can easily fill in on the left and right and interchange well with the wide men in this system, as well as dropping in when the team defends.