When Rafa Benitez talks about his Newcastle players, he has nothing but positive things to say.

Any mild criticism is couched amongst more flattering words about any individual.

The United boss is very supportive of his team/squad but when it comes to his actions, Rafa doesn’t hold back.

The relegation run-in saw the Newcastle Manager ready to leave out the likes of Wijnaldum and only two games into this current season, he dropped his recently appointed captain.

Likewise, looking ahead to this summer, Rafa Benitez will be 100% ruthless.

Anything that he says in the meantime about transfers can be parked, not saying that we should take what Rafa says with a pinch of salt but his actions are what tell us the true story.

For example, Anita and Gouffran have contracts ending this summer and when asked about the pair, Rafa said that there had been discussions about looking at new deals. No deals offered on two players who can agree pre-contracts now on deals to leave for free in the summer. There may well be deals eventually offered but I have my doubts – surely if these were players he really wanted to keep, it would surely be straightforward sorting this pair – they aren’t going to attract clubs anywhere near the level if Newcastle, even if we stay in the Championship.

So who would Rafa Benitez really be bothered about keeping, assuming promotion.

Well, I think the crystal clear starting point is whether or not a player is first choice in the Championship.

If you aren’t getting a game this season, how can anybody argue that these are players that would be key for Rafa to retain for the top tier?

Anybody who isn’t playing this season is expendable and here are the 14 to have reached double figures in terms of Championship starts.

29 Paul Dummett

28 Jamaal Lascelles

27 Matt Ritchie

26 Ciaran Clark

25 Jonjo Shelvey

25 Yoan Gouffran

23 Isaac Hayden

22 Karl Darlow

21 Dwight Gayle

17 Mohamed Diame

16 Ayoze Perez

16 Vurnon Anita

15 DeAndre Yedlin

14 Jack Colback

From those 14 I would say the real first team automatic choices have been Dummett, Lascelles, Ritchie, Clark, Shelvey, Gouffran, Hayden, Darlow and Gayle.

Some players beyond the key ones will of course end up making up a Premier League squad as cover, with new signings coming in above them, however, I think they would all have prices on their heads and Rafa be happy to trade them in.

Of those nine listed above, I think that Lascelles, Ritchie, Clark, Shelvey, Hayden, Darlow and Gayle are the ones Rafa Benitez wouldn’t sell. Not because they are world beaters and indeed some have far more talent than others – but he will need a core of current players to add the injection of quality to.

Gouffran and Dummett are clearly expendable despite being regular starters this season, the pair very much ‘doing a job’ at a level they are comfortable with.

On the other hand, I would add DeAndre Yedlin to the list who Rafa Benitez will definitely want to keep, attacking full-backs are an essential now in the Premier League and even more so arguably in the formation Rafa tends to prefer.

So Yedlin, Lascelles, Ritchie, Clark, Shelvey, Hayden, Darlow and Gayle are my (and Rafa’s…I believe) against the world. Expect plenty of action in the summer if/when promoted.

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