Three key tactical issues Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez is facing ahead of crunch Brighton clash
It really is now or never for Newcastle United against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.
Rafa Benitez's side are eight games in and are yet to secure a Premier League victory, a run that leaves the club in bottom three of the table.
The Magpies were handed a dreadful opening fixture list - but the longer Benitez's team go without a win, the more relegation becomes a reality rather than a fear.
Here, we take a look at three tactical issues Benitez is facing ahead of this weekend's crunch clash:
Paul Dummett is back - instant return?
The Geordie-born defender was an ever-present member of Benitez's starting XI until injury forced him to miss Newcastle's last two matches.
In the meantime, Kenedy was moved into left-back as the Magpies fell to a lacklustre defeat to Leicester City. A week later, Javier Manquillio was then recalled for the first time since the trip to Cardiff City.
Kenedy's poor start to the season was perhaps behind Benitez's decision to move him into a defensive role in a bid to get him playing up to the levels everybody knows he is capable of.
The Brazilian showed how much Newcastle miss his attacking threat at Old Trafford and should he repeat similar form on Saturday, Benitez's side have a greater chance of securing a huge three points.
In his three years on Tyneside, Benitez hasn't tended to stick with the same XI as the previous outing - which could be bad news for Manquillio and good news for the ever-trusted Dummett.
Muto, Rondon or Joselu?
Benitez has switched between Salomon Rondon, Joselu and Yoshinori Muto over the Magpies' previous three games - but who will get the nod against Brighton?
Following Rondon's first goal for Newcastle in the club's 3-1 Carabao Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest, the Venezuelan had appeared to be gathering some sort of momentum.
The 29-year-old showed great vision to seek out DeAndre Yedlin's bursting run at the back post to level at Manchester City.
And only his late arrival from international duty on the Thursday before the clash with Arsenal condemned him to the substitutes bench after missing the majority of Benitez's team shape drills.
He returned to the starting XI at Crystal Palace but a thigh injury halted his progress and he was replaced at half-time by Joselu.
Should he be deemed fit, it will be interesting to see how Benitez has rated Rondon in training this week and whether he thinks his marquee summer signing is ready to fire Newcastle to a vital win.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
The i newsletter cut through the noise
However, an immediate return for Rondon could be harsh on Muto, who led the line brilliantly at Manchester United two weeks ago.
Muto, who had not started any of Newcastle's opening seven games, showed the attributes of a true professional. He was eager to take his chance with a tireless performance at Old Trafford, bagging a deserved first goal in black and white on his first league start.
Alongside Kenedy, the pair sent the travelling Toon Army into ecstasy after putting the Magpies 2-0 at the Theatre of Dreams inside the opening 10 minutes, largely down to Muto's constant running that kept the Man United defenders occupied.
Naturally, with the lack of starts under his belt and his transition from the Bundesliga to the Premier League ongoing, Muto tired as Newcastle lost their shape towards the end, all of which coincided with a devastating Red Devils comeback.
Muto mobility is what differentiates him from Rondon and Joselu - but is it wrong to rule out the latter on Saturday?
It is important to remember that Joselu is the club's top goalscorer this season - albeit with two goals - and is very much liked by Benitez.
Benitez has also selected Joselu for over half of Newcastle's Premier League games so far. The former Stoke City man fits into Benitez's system and his work-rate can't be faulted.
How does Benitez approach the crunch clash?
Having faced six of last season's top nine in their opening eight matches, Benitez stuck to his guns and adopted a very deep defensive shape. In 2-1 defeats to Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Chelsea, it almost paid off.
However, against Manchester United, Benitez went against his traditions and attacked the Red Devils from the off.
Against an under-fire Jose Mourinho side, Newcastle certainly had a free hit at Old Trafford by coming into the game as underdogs and thriving off the pressure on the hosts.
But this is a completely different game and the pressure is truly on Newcastle. Should the same approach be adopted at St James's Park against the Seagulls?
We have seen from games last year just what a quick start can do for Newcastle and their confidence. Kenedy scored after two minutes in a similar encounter with Southampton - that win provided the catalyst for Premier League survival.