Team News: Newcastle United
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.
By Kevin Affleck
The availability of Will Hughes and Adalberto Peñaranda has offset the news that Christian Kabasele will miss the game against Newcastle United with the impact injury he sustained on Boxing Day.
Hughes has been missing since he limped off against Manchester City with a hip problem while Peñaranda's long-awaited introduction to English football has been held up by a foot issue. But both players are in full training and in contention to be part of Gracia's 18-man squad against the Magpies.
“Both are ready,” said Gracia when asked if they were in the right physical condition to be considered. “Maybe Will has trained with the team more times. He doesn't need to train a lot to be ready. Peñaranda needs more time because he had to stop for longer.”
Gracia will definitely be without Kabasele. The centre-back did not sustain any broken bones following the heavy collision with the post in the first-half against Chelsea, but the left-hand side of his upper body remains very sore and he will be given the weekend off to recover.
“He's not training with the team,” said Gracia. “After the game he didn't feel very well. He is feeling some pain, but he will be ready soon. I can't tell you when he'll be ready as he has some pain in the shoulder, arm and back.”
The absence of Kabasele means Adrian Mariappa is almost certain to start alongside Craig Cathcart, but the Head Coach has to decide who will provide centre-half cover on the bench as Sebastian Prödl is injured.
“We have other centre-backs injured and it will be a good chance for someone,” said Gracia. “Britos is ready. He is training with the team for a long time and I think he is ready.”
Ben Wilmot also comes into contention, particularly after catching the eye in the middle of the defence against Reading. The Head Coach is a big fan of the 19-year-old signed from Stevenage.
“I think he plays better as a midfielder,” said Gracia. “We know he can play as centre-back very well, like he did in the Carabao Cup. He is a good young player.”
Cathcart is at the opposite end of his career – he turns 30 in February – but he is approaching his peak years as a defender and is in a rich vein of form right now.
“You see the minutes the players have played, I think he is the player with the most minutes,” said Gracia. “He is always important. Now we have different problems with Prödl, with Kabasele, so we don't have a lot of options. But you know Craig he is always ready and for his national team as well.”