He Wasn't First Choice Anyway!

Jonjo Shelvey will face a late fitness test to determine whether the Newcastle United midfielder will be fit enough to take on Watford on Saturday.

But although reports are suggesting it is the return of The Messiah, Shelvey wasn't a first choice before his injury.

The 26-year-old has not started a Premier League game in more than six weeks due to a thigh problem, and he has made only one 20-minute appearance in December so far.

Ideally, manager Rafa Benitez would have liked to have given Shelvey a longer period of time to recover in order to ensure that he does not have yet another recurrence of his thigh problem.

Yet Ki Sung-yueng's enforced departure to a pre-Asian Cup South Korea training camp in the United Arab Emirates has reduced the midfield options that Benitez has at his disposal during the hectic festive schedule.

With Ki set to miss at least a month of Newcastle's season - the 29-year-old could be away until early-February if South Korea, who are one of the pre-tournament favourites, advance to the latter stages of the Asian Cup - Benitez currently has just three central-midfielders fit.

Mo Diame and Isaac Hayden were named in the United XI who lost 4-0 at Liverpool - with the latter making only his second start of the season after handing in a transfer request during the summer - while 21-year-old Academy graduate Sean Longstaff came off the bench to make his Premier League debut.

The Magpies lacked creativity in the engine room against the table-topping Reds, even if Kenedy was deployed in an unorthodox role as one of three central-midfielders, and Benitez is keen to restore Shelvey to the side as soon as possible.

But, while the England international is understood to be pushing to return to the line-up, Benitez is reluctant to risk Shelvey unless the midfielder passes a late fitness test.

Even then, given that Shelvey has played just 20 minutes of football across almost two months since he was forced off with a thigh injury during the Magpies' 1-0 home victory over Watford on November 3, the midfielder will not be fully match fit even if he does start at Vicarage Road.

Given the scarcity of options available to Benitez in midfield, the Spaniard would ideally like to sign a midfielder next month and to allow Hayden to depart.

However, with United struggling to complete deals in the transfer market, and with Benitez's need for an attacking-midfielder, a winger and a striker even more pressing than his desire to strengthen in the Magpies' engine room, it seems the Spaniard will have to make do with the options currently at his disposal until Ki returns from the Asian Cup.