Rafa Benitez has had to face problems previously unknown under Mike Ashley.
The club’s owner had always refused to sanction a proper squad at Newcastle United, the idea of having senior players standing idly by and getting paid for nothing, very much sticking in the throat of Ashley.
This naturally backfired on many occasions, as any decent number of injuries saw Newcastle badly lacking when it came to suitable replacements.
This led to weakened teams at crucial times and regular brushes with relegation, including two demotions in 2009 and 2016.
By not having a proper squad, it also has the negative outcome of many players knowing their places are guaranteed no matter how they play, which undoubtedly also contributed to these two relegations under Mike Ashley.
Rafa Benitez has been the man to change all that, only agreeing to continue at St James Park last summer if he was given the freedom to build a squad capable of getting Newcastle back into the top tier at the first attempt.
The benefits have been obvious and competition for places has undoubtedly improved performances, as Rafa has been quick to show that nobody’s place is assured, even dropping his Captain, Jamaal Lascelles.
The big ‘problem’, if you can call it that, is that when most players are fit, there are a decent number standing idle and even some who don’t make the matchday 18.
Rafa Benitez faced this on Tuesday at Carrow Road.
Rafa Benitez finding it especially difficult to justify leaving Daryl Murphy out of not only his team but also the matchday squad:
“We had 25 players available (v Norwich) and so we had to make decisions and leave some players out.
“Dwight Gayle is the top scorer in the league and if he was coming back, we had to leave someone out – Mitro was starting and so it had to be Daryl Murphy.
“You are disappointed for players sometimes because they are so good as professionals and they give you everything.
“You have to decide though and when you have 18, the others cannot be on the bench.”
This is how Newcastle lined up at Norwich:
Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Colback, Shelvey, Gouffran, Perez, Mitrovic
Elliot, Hanley, Gamez, Hayden, Atsu, Diame, Gayle
With only Anita and Aarons ruled out, Rafa also left the following available players out of his 18 v Norwich: Murphy, Ameobi, Lazaar, Sels, Haidara, Mbemba and Sterry.
A strange concept for Mike Ashley to accept but one that will be essential if Newcastle do get promoted in May, though of course the identity of his 25 man squad will have to drastically change with the addition of extra quality.