Who should make Rafa Benitez's Newcastle starting XI against Tottenham? Our writers have their say

Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

Newcastle United return to Premier League action tomorrow, with Tottenham Hotspur the visitors to St James's Park.

And while it has been a largely frustrating pre-season for the manager he has **five/six** new faces in his Magpies squad ahead of the big kick-off.

Will Dwight Gayle be fit enough to lead the United line?

Will Dwight Gayle be fit enough to lead the United line?

But how many will Benitez pick from the off? What formation will the manager play? And will any of the fringe players, seemingly on the way out just a few weeks back, get the chance to shine against Spurs?

Our writers Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy have their say...

Miles Starforth's view: (4-2-3-1) Rob Elliot; Javier Manquillo, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett; Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden; Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez, Christian Atsu; Dwight Gayle.

Let's be honest, Rafa Benitez hasn't got too many decisions to make.

Ayoze Perez - Liam Kennedy's pick to start up top

Ayoze Perez - Liam Kennedy's pick to start up top

Benitez, hopefully, will have some tougher decisions ahead of him in terms of team selection this season, but much of his team for Sunday's game against Tottenham Hotspur picks itself.

Rob Elliot gets the nod over Karl Darlow in goal, though I wouldn't be disappointed if the latter starts in goal. Both are Premier League goalkeepers.

Javier Manquillo has to start at right-back because of the pre-season injury suffered by DeAndre Yedlin, while Paul Dummett is the obvious – or only? – choice at left-back.

Florian Lejeune, for me, has been very, very good in pre-season. The centre-half has tackled, blocked and headed his way through the club's warm-up programme. He's also been able to bring the ball out of defence and pick a pass.

Siem de Jong has managed to revive his NUFC career

Siem de Jong has managed to revive his NUFC career

That said, Benitez is minded to gradually introduce Lejeune to Premier League, and I'd pick Jamaal Lascelles ahead of Lejeune for this game, but the club's captain is under pressure from the 26-year-old, who looks like he's physically ready for this division.

The same goes for Mikel Merino, who has looked good since joining the club late last month. Merino, a technically-gifted midfielder who can attack and defend, has impressed his team-mates in training. He's also given as good as he's got.

But, for the first game, I'd pair Isaac Hayden, a player who has long waited to play at this level, with Jonjo Shelvey.

I'd also pick Christian Atsu ahead of Jacob Murphy because of his pre-season form – Murphy's time will come – while Matt Ritchie, on the other flank, would be one of the first names on my teamsheet.

And I'd go with Ayoze Perez in the No 10 role and Dwight Gayle ahead of him if he's fit, though that would leave United with a front four lacking height.

Newcastle, though, would have enough pace and movement to trouble the visiting defence, and there would also be Plan B – Aleksandar Mitrovic – on the bench.

Liam Kennedy's view: (4-2-3-1) Rob Elliot; Javier Manquillo, Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett; Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden; Matt Ritchie, Siem de Jong, Christian Atsu; Ayoze Perez.

I think we're all probably in no doubt here that most of Newcastle's team picks itself.

Elliot is the best goalkeeper at the club, at present, and gets the nod over Karl Darlow who, despite an at times sensational season in the Championship, finds himself out of favour and unsure as to where his future may lie.

With DeAndre Yedlin injured Manquillo is in a right-back, getting the nod over one of Benitez's biggest transfer mistakes at United, Jesus Gamez.

The versatile Spaniard has also not done anywhere near enough in pre-season to edge Mr Reliable Dummett out at left-back.

In the centre the cool, calm presence of Lejeune alongside last season's stand out defender Clark wins the day, with club captain Jamaal Lascelles having to be content with a place on the bench.

Even though Mikel Merino could turn out to be the pick of the bunch in terms of talent, it would be a baptism of fire to throw him in from the off. And I suspect Benitez will think that, too. Hayden, for me, gets the nod.

Shelvey was excellent for the first few months of last season but faded badly in the latter stages. He still has a lot to prove in black and white and is a questionable choice if, as expected, he is given the armband.

But the responsibility might just be what is needed to keep the fires burning inside the supremely talented midfield man, who should find space a little easier to come by this season.

In the forward areas Ritchie picks himself and Atsu has been outstanding this summer, so gets the nod over Rolando Aarons and new boy Jacob Murphy, whose time will surely come.

De Jong has been like a phoenix from the flames this summer. All roads pointed to an exit at the start of the summer, but a couple of positive shows and a shifting of circumstance at St James's has seen him come to prominence.

What he lacks in a yard of pace he has the ability to make up for in intelligence. Although, this may only ever prove to a sticking plaster to cover United's forward frailties.

And with question marks over the fitness of Dwight Gayle, I'd be loathe to risk him straight off. We've seen first hand what the outcome of rushing last season's top scorer back can be.

Without reinforcements United need a fit and firing Gayle at his best, and given his recent record v Spurs, I'd give Perez the nod over Aleksandar Mitrovic, who, if we're being honest, would not be here if a buyer could have been found this summer.