Mikel Merino recalled as Rafa Benitez makes SEVEN changes to Newcastle starting XI

Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez has made SEVEN changes to his Newcastle United starting XI.

Rafa Benitez's side take on Brighton and Hove Albion at St James's Park this afternoon.

And Karl Darlow, Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, Mikel Merino, Christian Atsu, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle have all been recalled to his team.

Newcastle are 15th in the Premier League and a point above the relegation zone.

Brighton are three points ahead of them in 12th place.

Darlow returns to the team with No 1 Rob Elliot sidelined with a thigh problem.

The goalkeeper came close to joining Middlesbrough in the summer.

And the 27-year-old, outstanding in the Championship last season, is determined to play every game for the club as if its his last.

"I've worked so hard to get here, so while I'm here, I might as well enjoy it, because it's only a short career," Darlow told the matchday programme.

"I might not have ever played for Newcastle again, so while I'm here and when I play, it's a big thing for me to enjoy my football and enjoy playing in front of 52,000 at St James's."

Benitez is also without Aleksandar Mitrovic (back), Jesus Gamez (ankle) and Florian Lejeune (foot).

Meanwhile, former Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul is on Brighton's bench.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Ritchie, Hayden, Merino, Atsu; Gayle, Joselu. Subs: Woodman, Manquillo, Mbemba, Shelvey, Murphy, Diame, Perez.

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION: Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, March; Gross; Murray. Subs: Krul, Kayal, Baldock, Hemed, Goldson, Izquierdo, Schelotto.