Rafa Benitez had a long eight days to think about Saturday’s match, following what went on at the City Ground.

Yes his players now had three matches in eight days but you had to fancy the United boss would be throwing everything at Birmingham, in an attempt to ensure Newcastle got back on the Championship winning trail.

Particularly with it being a Birmingham side arriving in fourth position, rather than the relegation fighting Blackburn when a calculated gamble was made with six changes. Changes very much made with the midweek League Cup match at Hull in mind.

Rafa went with the following 11 against Birmingham:

Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Hayden, Gouffran, Diame, Gayle

Much has been made of Rafa’s rotation policy but it is in reality, largely a myth.

If you need further proof, look at this list of players, the number is how many Championship starts they had made out of a possible 19, heading into the Birmingham game:

17 Shelvey

17 Dummett

17 Lascelles

15 Gouffran

15 Ritchie

14 Clark

14 Gayle

13 Hayden

12 Anita

11 Perez

10 Darlow

10 Diame

9 Sels

8 Colback

7 Mbemba

7 Yedlin

4 Atsu

4 Mitrovic

1 Hanley

1 Aarons

1 Gamez

0 Murphy

0 Tiote

0 Lazaar

With Perez injured, Rafa Benitez went with the 11 players who had made most league starts this season and were fit for the game.

I think that for a must win match it becomes clear that Rafa knows what his best starting eleven is, with maybe the only debate being about Anita or Yedlin, the two offering totally different skill sets.

Taking Saturday into consideration, seven of the team that faced Birmingham have played 15 or more of the 20 Championship matches so far. Whilst Hayden has started 14 now, Anita 13, and Diame & Darlow (played every one since taking over from Sels) with 11.

I’m sure the Newcastle Manager will continue to give other players matches here and there, especially when you have clusters of games together, with Wigan on Wednesday a prime example.

However, when it comes to any must win match now, it isn’t difficult to guess who you will be watching, as Rafa Benitez totally has the measure of his squad.

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