Rafa Benitez sweating on fitness of key Newcastle men ahead of the derby
Rafa Benitez is hoping for an 11th-hour fitness boost at Newcastle United ahead of the Tyne-Wear derby.
Benitez could welcome Chancel Mbemba and Papiss Cisse back for Sunday’s game against Sunderland.
But the odds are against captain Fabricio Coloccini proving his fitness in time to line up at St James’s Park, while Cheick Tiote has lost his battle to be fit.
Manager Benitez and the club’s fitness and medical staff have been assessing Coloccini, Cisse and Mbemba this week.
Coloccini, the relegation-threatened club’s captain, suffered a calf problem last month, while Cisse has been sidelined for three months with a groin problem that needed surgery.
Mbema has been out since the start of last month with an ankle problem.
Tiote, meanwhile, hasn’t featured since limping out of last month’s 5-1 defeat to Chelsea.
Asked about Coloccini and Cisse, Benitez said: “It is difficult to say when a player has been injured for a few weeks.”
Benitez added that he would have a “clearer idea” about their availability by the end of the week.
Derby veteran Tiote, however, won’t be involved against Sunderland.
And Benitez will make a late decision on defensive pair Coloccini and Mbemba, and striker Cisse, ahead of the hugely-important fixture.
Paul Dummett suffered a hamstring problem in Steve McClaren’s last game in charge and won’t be available for a number of weeks.
Dummett’s defensive colleague Massadio Haidara is closing in on his comeback.
Haidara, sidelined since October with a knee injury, posted a video of himself doig ball work at the club’s training ground this month saying he hoped to be back “soon”.
In the absence of Dummett and Haidara, Benitez doesn’t have a fit senior left-back.
And midfielder Jack Colback is expected to continue there against his former club.
Meanwhile, Rolando Aarons has been given a lift ahead of Newcastle’s relegation run-in.
The 20-year-old has been called up into the England Under-21 squad for the first time by Gareth Southgate.
Southgate’s side face Switzerland in a UEFA European Championship qualifier in Thun next Saturday.
“We see him as a wide player,” said Southgate. “We are in a situation where, unfortunately, Duncan Watmore has an injury, and Nathan Redmond has been a key player for us and he is out.
“For Rolando, it is an opportunity for him to come with the Under-21s for the first time and a chance to impress us and get an understanding of the way we work.”
Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend were not called up into the senior squad for the friendlies against Germany and Holland by Roy Hodgson.