Five key battles: Newcastle United vs. Leeds United

Newcastle United play host to Leeds United at St James’ Park on Good Friday, in what is a highly-anticipated Championship clash.

The hosts know that they can move a step closer to securing automatic promotion back to the Premier League just a year after they suffered relegation.

The Magpies suffered a slight setback last weekend when they were beaten 2-1 by Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, but they are still 10 points clear of third-placed Huddersfield Town with the Terriers have just six fixtures left to try and catch them.

Meanwhile, Garry Monk’s men returned to winning ways with a comprehensive 3-0 victory against play-off hopefuls Preston North End at Elland Road last Saturday, which has left them in fifth position and five points above seventh-placed Fulham.

Both sides have shown their quality throughout the campaign in England’s second tier, and have players that can prove to be the difference in a match.

Here are five key battles that could decide where the points go…

Rafa Benitez vs Garry Monk

Both of these managers have proven themselves at Premier League level and they are undoubtedly two of the best in the Championship.

Leeds came into the corresponding fixture in November on the back of a three-match winning streak, but it was Benitez’s side who took all three points as Dwight Gayle’s brace gave them a 2-0 win.

Monk will certainly be out to get some revenge over that result on Good Friday, to help his side further cement their spot in the top six.

Jamaal Lascelles vs Chris Wood

Wood has proven that he is one of the best players at this level after a fine season with Leeds, in which he has scored 24 Championship goals, which makes him the top marksman in the division.

The 25-year-old picked up a slight injury while on international duty with New Zealand last month, and he has failed to score in his three league appearances since he returned to England.

He is still a huge threat though, and Magpies captain Lascelles will know that he will need to be at his best to stop the prolific goalscorer.

Aleksandar Mitrovic vs Pontus Jansson

With the Magpies’ top goalscorer – and Chris Wood’s biggest competition in the race to win the Championship Golden Boot – Dwight Gayle set to miss the clash after picking up a hamstring problem in the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday last weekend, Mitrovic could step in.

Daryl Murphy replaced Gayle in the 29th minute at Hillsborough but after impressing when he came off of the substitutes’ bench late on, the Serbian could get the nod at St James’ Park.

If he does it will be a fascinating battle against Whites defender Jansson, who has quickly established himself as one of the best and most committed centre-backs in the division this term.

Matt Ritchie vs Gaetano Berardi

Ritchie has been one of the most consistent performers for Newcastle this season following his move to St James’ Park from Bournemouth last summer.

The 27-year-old has helped ease the pressure on Dwight Gayle to score the goals by netting 11 Championship goals – including two in his last three – and he will be a huge threat on the right-hand side.

However, he will come up against Berardi who has become a regular in Garry Monk’s side in recent months, with his fine performances keeping Charlie Taylor on the substitutes’ bench.

Jonjo Shelvey vs Pablo Hernandez

One of the most intriguing battles on Good Friday could come between Hernandez and Shelvey in the middle of the park.

The former has been impressing in a free role in recent weeks and loves a nutmeg, while the latter is continuing to show how good he can be from both a defensive and offensive point of view after scoring the Magpies’ goal in their 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.

Monk knows Shelvey well having managed the midfielder during the duo’s time with Swansea, and he will know all about the range of passing that he has in his locker, as well as his sometimes questionable temperament – the 25-year-old has picked up seven yellows and one red this term.