The start of the Championship season is just a few days away and every Newcastle United fan is eager to see how Benitez’s new-look team will fare in what will be a tough encounter on Friday night against Fulham.

I’ve followed the pre-season games closely and the performances of the players, and it’s clear that Benitez is in the process of building a strong squad, however, at 7:45 on Friday evening, only eleven players can be in the starting line-up. Here’s my assessment of the strongest line-up to begin the campaign. The formation is 4-2-3-1:

Matz Sels

It doesn’t look like Sels has been brought in to sit on the bench and apart from a bad error at Doncaster, the new man has looked solid in between the sticks in pre-season. With Tim Krul not fully fit, Elliot ruled out until at least September and Darlow still looking a little bit shaky, I think Sels is the best choice to start the season as number one.

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Daryl Janmaat

Janmaat’s future is still up in the air, however, the Dutchman has started every pre-season game. I find this odd as if the player was looking to leave, the club would protect their asset by minimising the risk of a potential injury. I have my doubts about Janmaat but at times, he can offer a real threat going forward and with Gamez lacking game time in pre-season, I feel Janmaat is the safe option to start the season.

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Jamaal Lascelles

Lascelles looks like he will be one of the first names on the team-sheet this season with him looking almost certain to retain the captaincy for the coming campaign. Lascelles knows what the Championship is all about and will be key in commanding the defence throughout the game and the season as a whole.

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Chancel Mbemba

Chancel Mbemba has got to start. I think he and Lascelles have formed a fantastic partnership and will grow as a centre-half pairing. In my opinion, Mbemba is the best defender at the club – he possesses good pace for a centre-half and his reading of the game is impressive. A player who shone in the Premiership and will surely thrive at this level.

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Paul Dummett

Dummett may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however, there is no doubt that he is probably the best defensive left back at the club. It’s also interesting to note that our points tally with him in the team is better than when he is not in the team. Although he gets a lot of stick, the Welsh international is solid defensively and I think he should get the nod to start at Fulham.

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Jonjo Shelvey

Shelvey is an interesting one. The former Liverpool midfielder was dropped by Benitez for the tail end of the season, but he remains eager to stay at the club and play a big part in the club’s promotion bid. I think Shelvey will be key this season – his ability to spray the ball around the park is very impressive. One of the big differences between the Premier League and the Championship is that you get a lot more space and I think Shelvey will absolutely thrive off of it.

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Jack Colback

In the midfield, you need someone to do the basic hard work and Colback does exactly that, and he does it well. This is crucial as it allows creative players like Shelvey to play to his strengths. Nobody can accuse Colback of a lack of effort as he will always put a shift in and you need players like that on every team, and especially in the Championship.

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Matt Ritchie

It was a huge blow to lose Andros Townsend to Crystal Palace, however, that blow has been softened by the arrival of Ritchie. I feel Ritchie was the best replacement Newcastle could have gotten for Townsend. His ability to cross and strike a ball is brilliant and the Gosport-born winger will certainly causes a lot of problems for teams. He hit a very impressive fifteen goals and seventeen assists for Bournemouth in their promotion season two years ago, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will achieve a similar tally this time around.

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Ayoze Perez

Perez has been in red hot form in pre-season whilst playing in a centre attacking midfield position. The young Spaniard has the pace, skill and dribbling ability to thrive there and has linked up well with Gayle so far. His work rate is also something to be admired, and he has earned the right to start at Fulham.

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Rolando Aarons

Aarons is another player who has impressed in the off-season. His ability to beat a man with pace and unpredictability could be a real weapon this season, if he stays fit. It’s about time he takes his pre-season form into the league games and with the form he has been in, everyone should expect him to do that against Fulham.

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Dwight Gayle

Gayle has looked sharp in pre-season since arriving from Palace for a hefty fee of £10 million. There is no doubt in my mind he will get goals in the Championship – his lightning pace will cause defenders nightmares and he is a natural born finisher. He has so far struck up a nice partnership with Perez and I hope that continues against Fulham.

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