Selection dilemma for Benítez ahead of Huddersfield clash
Written by Luke Vinton
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benítez has revealed that the majority of his squad are available to face Huddersfield Town at St. James' Park on Saturday (kick-off 3pm GMT).
The Magpies, a single point above the relegation zone, host bottom-placed Huddersfield who have recorded one away win in 12 top-flight contests this term - a 2-0 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers in November.
With a long list of injury casualties returning to the first-team squad, Benítez insisted he has been given plenty of tricky choices to make, with only Rob Elliot and Ciaran Clark confirmed as sitting out United's encounter with the Terriers.
"You have to make decisions - it's a dilemma," Benítez said. "You have to decide which players are in the squad and which have to wait. It's not an easy decision and sometimes it can be one of the worst things you have to do because you can see them training and doing well but you still have to decide.
"Apart from Elliot and Clark, the rest of the players are available so that makes it even more difficult. Jonjo (Shelvey) is the last one coming back now and he is pushing, and Ki (Sung-yueng) and (Mohamed) Diamé are training well.
"(Isaac) Hayden and (Sean) Longstaff are doing well so it's good competition and you have to take the positives for the rest of the season. Everybody is pushing and trying to do their best which can only be good for us."
Huddersfield are without a league win in their last 13 matches but Benítez believes that his side must nonetheless beware of their struggling opponents.
Newcastle were made to wait late for their win over Huddersfield in last season's meeting, earning a 1-0 victory following Ayoze Pérez's winner on Tyneside.
"The priority is to stay up, and to focus and concentrate on the team," he said. "It's a time to be sure that everyone is ready to get the points we need to stay up.
"Their manager is very clear that they will fight until the end and I think that the players are good professionals who will do the same. It's a side that has a good team spirit and have had this during the whole season so I think they will keep doing the same.
"Obviously, the key for us is to do well and try to score an early goal which could give us more confidence and make it difficult for them. I think it will be a dangerous game, because they (Huddersfield) will try to do their best without feeling too much pressure."
With Miguel Almirón making his Premier League debut at Wolves, Benítez stated that the new signing could make his eagerly-anticipated bow at St. James' Park, although admitted the Paraguayan will face competition in his battle for a starting place.
Benítez added: "It's another important decision to make because we have enough players in this position and I could see Kenedy, (Christian) Atsu and Ayoze all training well in Spain. Almirón, for me, was doing quite well (in training) too, so that's good news for us.
"For any player, it's not easy to go to another league and then to know a different environment and teammates. You need some time but he has one advantage in speaking Spanish with us and we have a lot of people who can speak with him. When you want to explain the tactics you want to do, he can understand and he is trying to do what we are telling him."