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Three Pressing Questions for Rafa and His Squad

Newcastle have shown they’re up for the fight, but how will these rising conflicts affect the club going forward?

Burnley FC v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

What will the backline look like going forward?

With Jamaal Lascelles edging back to match fitness and Florian Lejuene back in training, Rafa Benitez has suddenly seen his options in the center back department grow exponentially. While Federico Fernandez has just about cemented his place as starter in this squad, the second center back position is truly up for grabs.

The obvious candidate for the second center back berth, Jamaal Lascelles, had formed a decent partnership with Fernandez prior to his recent injury. However, in that time, Fabian Schar as presented himself as a wild-card option. Though he is not as dominant in the air as Lascelles, he’s proven to be a far superior passer of the ball, and that has been instrumental to Newcastle’s success in recent weeks.

Then, of course, there is Ciaran Clark who has managed to gain the trust of Rafa Benitez. Lastly, Florian Lejeune is edging closer to entering the fray. Although it has been a long time since Lejeune stepped on the field, Rafa Benitez will surely remember the Frenchman’s suberb displays last season.

Newcastle United v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

In a weird, twisted way, Rafa Benitez has seen his selection headache eased by Paul Dummett’s injury. With Paul Dummett out and Achraf Lazaar as the only other true left back on Tyneside, Rafa recently opted for three at the back against Burnley, and it would not be the most shocking decision if he continues to do so.

If he does continues with three at the back, it’s hard to imagine that Captain Jamaal Lascelles would be left out. In the near future, the third center back berth would likely either be gifted to Ciaran Clark or Fabian Schar.

The long term future of the backline remains far less certain. In addition to the obvious center-back dilemma, there is uncertainty at both full back positions. Deandre Yedlin has been starting consistently for the side, but his positional awareness still leaves a bit to be desired. On the other side, Paul Dummett has proven to be less than durable, and hasn’t exactly made the position his own. Rafa will be in the market for a left back; it just remains to be seen whether he will be looking for a back-up to Paul Dummett or a potential starter.

Regardless of what happens, all fans will be glad that Newcastle has luxurious selection dilemma at the center back position. Over the years, the inverse, with too few players available at a position, has been a recurring problem. In fact, it is even a problem now at the left back position.

Will Mike Ashley get complacent for the 1000th time this January?

After Rafa guided Newcastle to 10th place last season, Mike Ashley once again gambled by making a profit off summer transfer business. As a result, the first ten games were absolutely dire for the side. His greed had sucked the life out of the squad and the fanbase.

Although Rafa and the squad seem to have turned the corner in recent weeks, its unrealistic to expect this momentum to last forever. The fact is that there are 38 matches in a Premier League season, so the team will undoubtedly face stumbling blocks in the future. When the Benitez’ side is faced with these hurdles, he will need an adequate squad to get things going again.

The past few matches have been a breath of fresh air, but its impossible to neglect the obvious lack of creativity in the squad. The goals are flowing again, but Newcastle is badly lacking a #10 in the heart of midfield. Miguel Almiron’s name has continued to pop up, and he looks worthy of investment. It just remains to be seen whether Mike Ashley will sanction such a deal.

Elsewhere, lack of depth at the left back and defensive midfield department has been recurring problem. Though Mohamed Diame has picked it up again, he could use some competition for the defensive midfield berth. Also, Paul Dummett’s injury record is an obvious concern, but in addition to that, his performances have continued to be rather unspectacular. At the very least, Rafa will be hoping for a back up left back, maybe even an upgrade.

Newcastle United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Ultimately, all of these transfer plans hinge on Mike Ashley and his impetuous decision-making. The reality is that he cannot continue to expect Rafa Benitez to produce miracles. Even if Benitez manages to keep the club afloat without backing in the transfer market, Mike Ashley would never be forgiven if he does not do all in his power to keep Rafa Benitez at Newcastle beyond this season.

What about Jonjo Shelvey?

During this three game win streak, the fact that Jonjo Shelvey has been out of the starting lineup has flown entirely under the radar. For much of last season, Jonjo Shelvey was Newcastle’s sole creative outlet going forward. Even this season, he was the player that the side relied on to take Newcastle forward in attack.

However, through the first quarter of the season, he has not had the expected effect in midfield. Don’t be mistaken, his passing has remained crisp and his distribution is as good as ever, but he hasn’t changed games the way he did in the latter half of last season.

Newcastle United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

In recent weeks, Ki has stepped in for Jonjo Shelvey and has seemingly made the position his own. Though he is not blessed with an abundance of pace, Ki is clever on the ball and has consistently picked the right pass. Furthermore, Diame and Ki seem to have formed a nice partnership in the midfield.

All that being said, it remains to be seen what will happen to Jonjo Shelvey. It’s no secret that Jonjo Shelvey is one of Newcastle’s best players, and the team is clearly better with him involved. It will be interesting to see whether Jonjo Shelvey manages to reclaim his place in midfield, or whether Rafa Benitez manages to incorporate a midfield with both Ki and Shelvey in it. Of course, a central midfield of Ki and Shelvey alone could be picked apart by the opposition, as neither of the two are defensive workhorses. However, with Rafa Benitez showing a willingness to shuffle things up in terms of formation, maybe a midfield trio of Ki, Shelvey, and Diame is on the cards.