Rafael Benitez has refused to confirm whether Jonjo Shelvey will be given a first start since his opening day red card when Newcastle United face former club Liverpool on Sunday (1 October). The England midfielder has made two cameo appearances for the Toon since being dismissed against Tottenham Hotspur for stamping on Dele Alli, an incident he has described as a "moment of madness".
The 25-year-old has been handed outings against Stoke City and Brighton and Hove Albion but has yet to convince Benitez is worthy of playing from the start. Like the Spaniard, Shelvey is also a former member of the Anfield parish having represented the Reds between 2010 and 2013 – but must wait to discover if he will face his former side.
"You have to find a balance between defence and attack," said Benitez, according The Chronicle. "He will have a chance for sure to impress. I don't know if it will be from the beginning in this game. I don't want to give too much away, but he's an important player for us."
The game promises to be another emotional occasion for Benitez, who returns to Liverpool – against whom he is unbeaten in four matches – as a manager once again. During six years at the club he won four pieces of silverware including the club's fifth European Cup in 2005 after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over AC Milan.
Benitez may have left Liverpool seven years ago and had spells in Europe at Inter Milan and Real Madrid since his stint at the club, but he has several emotional ties to the area. His family continue to live in the city, with his children attending local schools. The 57-year-old has also previously donated to the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster, ensuring he remains a much-celebrated figure.
"It is obviously a special game for me," he added. "It will be emotional as I was there for so many years and have so many good memories. My family still live in Liverpool. I had a very good relationship with the fans and also my relationship with the Newcastle fans is quite good too! I want Liverpool fans to be happy at the start of the game and our fans to be happy at the end."
Newcastle have just two absentees through injury for the visit of Liverpool, with Paul Dummett suffering from a hamstring injury and Massadio Haidara out with a knee problem. Defender Florian Lejeune is back in contention though after suffering an ankle blow on his debut for the club in August.