Though Newcastle has surprised virtually everyone by winning four straight matches, somehow ending up in the top four conversation, it now runs headlong into Alan Pardew's Kryptonite. Not Manchester City...or the derby...I'm talking about midweek matches. Pardew groaned repeatedly about the strain that last year's Europa League adventure had on his preparation. As a result, "fitness guru" Faye Downey worked with the players this summer in hopes of improving their conditioning. This week will be a good assessment of how Downey's work has paid off.
Pardew does face a genuine dilemma in planning for the week ahead. He hasn't had to touch his front six during the winning streak, and his players have rewarded him with excellent performances. Now, however, he will have to make choices. The good news is that he's left several of his better players in reserve over the last month, meaning that they should be fresh, and looking to prove a point to the manager. I've added three of Saturday's absentees to my desired lineup for the Swansea match. How many will Pardew deem worthy?
As always, I'll explain my chosen starting eleven, then finish off the post by predicting the manager's actual selections.
Keeper and back four: Tim Krul; Mathieu Debuchy, Mike Williamson, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Davide Santon
According to Pardew, leaving out Yanga-Mbiwa against West Brom "was probably the most disappointing decision" he's had to make this year. Though Fabricio Coloccini was fine in Saturday's match, perhaps a day off wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the embattled club captain. There are plenty of reasons why giving Yanga-Mbiwa a start tomorrow makes sense. It's a nice demonstration of Pardew's faith in him, given that he may not be starting ahead of Coloccini and Williamson most weeks. It allows the club to slowly begin phasing out Coloccini, whose personal issues and injury concerns seem to be catching up to him. And it keeps Coloccini fresh for Saturday's match at Old Trafford, where his experience will be an asset.
Midfield: Moussa Sissoko, Yohan Cabaye, Vurnon Anita
Anita is another player who should feel slighted over his recent stays on the bench. Much like Yanga-Mbiwa, he's played well, but just hasn't gotten a chance while Pardew has opted for the same lineup every week. But this might be an interesting opportunity to try him out. The way I'm picturing this midfield is something like an inverted triangle, with Cabaye slightly deeper than his partners. Anita can retreat to a defensive position if necessary, but both he and Sissoko should try to get forward if given a chance - something both players have done quite a bit this season. Against a Swansea side which still plays a possession-heavy style (55.3% per match, 5th in the Premier League), the pace of Anita and Sissoko could be useful on the counterattack. Cheick Tioté can use his afternoon off to watch this video of his performance against Man U from 2012 and visualize himself shackling Wayne Rooney once more.
Forwards: Hatem Ben Arfa, Yoan Gouffran, Loïc Rémy
Shame on me for doubting the Nigerian Messi. I didn't think Shola Ameobi would be able to repeat his Norwich performance on Saturday, and I was happy to be proven wrong. However, it may be too much to ask him to start again after going the full 90 minutes against West Brom. Plus, much like Tioté, he has a history of pounding Manchester United into submission, so it makes sense to hold him out and start him at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Ben Arfa can get a chance to see if he's improved at all in his month off, while playing in a system that should give him some opportunities.
And as far as my favorite player goes, can the "Yoan Gouffran is not a scorer" trope finally meet the fate it so richly deserves? He's tied for 13th in the league in goals despite never starting a match up front and shooting less than virtually anyone around him on the Premier League leaderboard. Given his ability to pick out a pass, having the likes of Rémy, Ben Arfa, Anita, and Sissoko around him should be a dangerous prospect for the Swansea defense. He's got one of the premier Ligue 1 analysts advocating for him to play in the World Cup. I'm begging you, Alan, give the man a chance!
Who Pardew will choose: Krul; Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; Sissoko, Anita, Cabaye, Gouffran; Ben Arfa, Rémy