Newcastle v Stoke preview: Rafa Benitez back in dugout
Last Updated: 16/09/17 1:57pm
Newcastle will record their best start to a Premier League season since 2011 with victory over Stoke City at St James' Park on Saturday.
Rafa Benitez's men lost their opening two fixtures to Tottenham and Huddersfield but have since taken maximum points against West Ham and Swansea.
A win over Stoke would be their best points return after five games in the Premier League since also taking nine points in 2011/12 season when managed by Alan Pardew.
Benitez will be back in the dugout having missed their win over Swansea with health problems. The Spaniard has a very strong record over Mark Hughes, losing once in 11 meetings against the Stoke boss.
Despite a solid start to the campaign, including a victory over Arsenal, Stoke have lost nine of their last 14 away games and have failed to score in seven of their last 10 road trips.
Chancel Mbemba could return to the Newcastle squad.
The Democratic Republic of Congo defender returned from international duty with a hamstring problem amid suggestions he could be out of action for several weeks, but manager Benitez has confirmed that only full-backs Paul Dummett (also hamstring) and Massadio Haidara (knee) are absent through injury.
Goalkeeper Karl Darlow is also fit again after a thigh strain, but striker Aleksandar Mitrovic serves the second instalment of his three-match ban.
Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross is rated as "touch and go" for Saturday's Premier League trip.
The defender has been carrying a back problem which forced him out of last weekend's draw against Manchester United, so will not be rushed into a return.
American defender Geoff Cameron (hamstring) is not fit, while Dutch midfielder Ibrahim Afellay (knee) and Stephen Ireland (broken leg) continue their rehabilitation from a long-term injuries.
Newcastle have only lost once in their last 13 home matches versus the Potters in all competitions - 1-2 in September 2010 (W9 D3).
Stoke are unbeaten in their last five Premier League games against Newcastle, keeping a clean sheet on four occasions (W3 D2 L0).
Newcastle have won four of their seven Premier League home matches under Rafa Benitez (W4 D2 L1), the same total the Magpies won in 14 attempts under his predecessor Steve McClaren.
Newcastle will be looking to win three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since November 2014, when they won five in a row under Alan Pardew.
A league-high 34.5 per cent of Newcastle United's passes in the Premier League this season have been played in to the attacking third of the pitch.
Since the start of last season Matt Ritchie (9) has provided more assists in league competition than any other Newcastle player, including assisting Jamaal Lascelles' winner vs Swansea last time out.
Paul Merson's prediction
Both teams had good results last weekend and I can't separate them at the moment. Stoke have found their feet and Newcastle have had a couple of good results.
Newcastle put in a good performance at Swansea and if they get another win then it's happy days at the club. It's a funny old game.
PAUL PREDICTS: 1-1 (9/2 with Sky Bet)
Newcastle are Sky Bet' 13/10 favourites with Stoke priced at 21/10 and the draw 9/4. Both sides have seen their relegation odds lengthened since the start of the season, with the Magpies currently 9/2 while the visitors are 9/1 to go down. Joselu heads the first goalscorer betting at 4/1 while Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is considered the Potters' main threat at 11/2 to break the deadlock.
Newcastle v Stoke is included in this weekend's Super 6 line-up, with £250,000 up for grabs again following last weekend's £1million giveaway. Enter your predictions for free here.