Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew
Newcastle United’s mini tour of Portugal comes to a close on Tuesday evening, and Alan Pardew and his players will be looking to head home on a high following defeat to Rio Ave at the weekend.
The 3-1 reverse in Vila do Conde came as something of a surprise to the Magpies, and their next fixture should pose even more of a challenge against Champions League qualifiers Pacos de Ferreira.
With a 24-man squad at his disposal, including Massadio Haidara, who joined the travelling party late, Pardew is likely to make changes to the side that conceded three goals in the opening 26 minutes on Saturday.
And with exactly four weeks until their 2013-14 Premier League opener at Manchester City, the manager will be keen to nail down his first-choice lineup as soon as possible.
With that in mind, we take at look at a possible starting XI that would give Newcastle the best chance of returning to Tyneside with a positive result under their belts.
With first-choice stopper Tim Krul still on his way back to full fitness following a dislocated shoulder at the end of last season, backup Rob Elliot looks likely to deputise once more.
Rookie goalkeeper Jak Alnwick started the game against Rio Ave at the weekend, but after conceding three goals in quick succession, the 20-year-old made way for Elliot at the break.
Elliot's experience in the Premier League last term stands him in good stead, and he proved his value by saving a late penalty on Saturday to keep the scoreline respectable.
And having watched the opening 45 minutes in Vila do Conde from the bench, the former Charlton Athletic man looks set for a starting role against Pacos de Ferreira.
Davide Santon was one of Newcastle's most consistent performers last season
High hopes were pinned on French right-back Mathieu Debuchy following his January arrival, but for many Newcastle United fans, the jury is still very much out.
On occasion, the defender looked out of his depth in the Premier League following his move from Lille, and friendly fixtures such as this will provide a good measure of his progress at the club.
In the case of left-back Davide Santon, the Italian international needs all the game time he can get after missing the final seven matches of last term with a hamstring injury.
The 22-year-old former Inter Milan star made great strides over the course of the 2012-13 campaign, and was one of the club’s rare success stories in what was a difficult season.
Yet to make an appearance during Newcastle’s pre-season campaign, club captain Fabricio Coloccini is in line to take his place at the heart of United’s defence once more.
The game against Pacos de Ferreira will suit the influential Argentine, who spent four years with Deportivo La Coruna across the border in Spain before moving to Tyneside in 2008.
Alongside him, many Magpies fans are keen to see how Frenchman Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa would fare with the calming figure of Coloccini by his side, and now would be a good time to find out.
Signed from Montpellier in January, the 24-year-old showed flashes of brilliance for the Magpies last term, despite injury and form plaguing their back four during the closing stages.
Moussa Sissoko could be a key player for Newcastle next term
If Newcastle are to improve on last term’s struggles, the form of Cheick Tiote will be crucial over the coming weeks and months, and the player himself has a point to prove.
In an interview with Lee Ryder in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, the Ivorian admitted his performances weren’t good enough during the 2012-13 campaign, and a starting berth against Pacos de Ferreira could provide the perfect opportunity to correct this.
Likewise, finding the ideal position for Moussa Sissoko was another thorn in Newcastle’s side, with the 23-year-old consistently used further forward despite his glowing reputation as a box-to-box midfielder.
The Frenchman came on as a second-half substitute against Rio Ave on Saturday, as did Tiote, and forming a solid base out of the pair in the middle of the park could see United reap the benefits.
Yohan Cabaye is one of Newcastle's most inventive players
Yohan Cabaye’s future is still very much up in the air, and according to Alan Oliver of Mirror Football, the Frenchman is now a target for Manchester United as well as big-spending Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco.
Arguably Newcastle’s best player against Rio Ave at the weekend, the former Lille midfielder was unfortunate not to find the back of the net after seeing a fine first-half effort hit the woodwork.
Cabaye was not alone in enduring a difficult spell last season, but on his day he remains one of the Magpies’ most creative players.
And with the supportive reassurance of Cheick Tiote and Moussa Sissoko behind him, a free role in front of a solid midfield pairing could give the 27-year-old all the space he needs to work his magic.
Can Hatem Ben Arfa leave his injury troubles behind?
Much of Newcastle United’s success during the 2011-12 campaign, which saw Alan Pardew’s men finish fifth in the Premier League, came via the effective use of wide frontmen.
And while a combination of Hatem Ben Arfa’s injury problems and Demba Ba’s departure to Chelsea put paid to that option last season, it is a formation that could work once more during the forthcoming campaign.
Ben Arfa, who is in line to start against Pacos de Ferreira, remains something of an enigma, but when he’s in the mood, few defences can live with his direct running and close ball control, not to mention his unnerving eye for goal.
Much like Sissoko and Tiote, this season is also a big one for Sylvain Marveaux, and a place in a three-pronged attack could see the Frenchman finally realise his undoubted potential in a black and white shirt.
Newcastle United’s hunt for at least one new striker is football’s worst-kept secret, but for now, they have little option but to stick with Yohan Gouffran in the No. 9 role.
With the club in talks to sign Lyon’s Bafetimbi Gomis, as reported by Colin Young in the Daily Mail, Gouffran is one of the few options they have.
Another would be to start with Shola Ameobi, who is available despite injuring his arm in the 3-1 defeat to Rio Ave on Saturday. Likewise, youngster Adam Campbell is in the squad, but he lacks experience.
So for now, purely out of necessity, it looks like Pardew will continue to use Gouffran as an out-and-out striker despite the Frenchman’s preference of playing wide on the left.