Rafa Benítez surprised everyone today by revealing Isaac Hayden will undergo surgery on his ankle and could miss up to four weeks of what could prove to be a pivotal period in Newcastle’s promotion push.
The former Arsenal midfielder has been one of the shining lights of this season. He arrived with little expectation but his impressive displays have been key to the Magpies’ success, especially away from home.
Hayden, when paired in the middle with Shelvey, has adequately shielded the back four through interceptions and crunching tackles. On the ball, he is comfortable and his absence means someone will have to step up to the plate, but who?
Jack Colback is a player who, more often than not, leaves fans frustrated rather than excited. His early days at United were so impressive that he earned himself a spot in an England squad, only to pull out through injury.
Since then, Newcastle fans have witnessed the infuriating decline of a player who impressed them so much upon his arrival.
Benítez has placed his trust in Colback this season. The former Sunderland midfielder was part of the eleven who went on an eight-match unbeaten run early on this season and before his injury, he was Shelvey’s first-choice partner.
The 27-year-old is two bookings away from a two-match ban and with crucial games against Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading on the horizon, he must become more mature and calculated in how he plays the game.
If ever Colback was to rediscover his form from 2014, now would be the ideal time to do so.
The tactically astute Dutchman has been deployed in his preferred position (right-back) under Rafa Benítez and has become one of his manager’s most trusted lieutenants.
However, due to DeAndre Yedlin’s excellent form in the side, perhaps Anita could find himself back in the middle of the park.
The 27-year-old in back in full training and is no stranger to the role of an anchorman in midfield.
Rafa has praised his “versatility” all season and given how much he trusts Anita, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start alongside Shelvey.
Mo Diame has featured regularly behind the striker this season and with Newcastle short in that position, the former Hull midfielder has become a key asset.
His United career started off slowly. He was ineffective and looked off the pace. However, Diamé has since found his feet and given opposition defenders a tough time.
At times this season, the Senegalese powerhouse has dropped back to play alongside Shelvey when called upon.
Undoubtedly, Diamé is a much better option for the number ten role, but with Ayoze showing signs of improvement, could the 29-year-old be utilised in a deeper role by Rafa Benítez?
The case of Chancel Mbemba is a curious one. Last season, he was a regular in United’s defence under Steve McClaren and still featured when Rafa Benítez arrived.
At the age of 22, many Newcastle fans thought Mbemba was one of Newcastle’s star performers last season and they had high hopes for him before this campaign began.
However, the former Anderlecht defender failed to take his chance when Benitez started him at home to Wolves. United lost 2-0.
Mbemba’s sloppiness and ill-disciplined defensive positioning gave Ciaran Clark the opportunity to cement his place in the side, and that he did. Clark’s brilliance and Grant Hanley’s reliability have arguably made Mbemba the fourth-choice centre-back at the club.
He has found it hard to even break into the matchday squad as of late, but there may be a glimmer of hope for the DR Congo enforcer. At the African Cup of Nations, Mbemba impressed many with his effective displays as a holding midfielder.
His newfound form as a central midfielder has led to suggestions that he take Hayden’s place in the side. At the moment, it looks like an unlikely proposition but if Colback gets suspended, it could come to fruition.