Rafa Benitez found one exchange particularly amusing at his pre-Manchester United press conference on Friday afternoon.
The Newcastle boss has a number of injury problems, with Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles now injured, as well as others such as Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett.
Rafa was quizzed as to which players he would be bringing in, the ‘big game players who can go to Old Trafford and hold themselves’?
With a big smile on his face (and a look that also said ‘what a stupid question’), the United boss made clear how limited his options are in the squad he has to choose from.
Rafa Benitez replying ‘If you have on the bench maybe five or six top class players, costing you £40m (each), then you are thinking all of these things…’
The reality for the Newcastle manager though being – ‘What we have is a group of players that are working very hard and it doesn’t matter who you pick.’
In other words, if he had ‘big game players who can go to Old Trafford and hold themselves’, he would be playing them every week, not leaving them on the bench usually.
It is a stark reminder really of the lack of true quality in the team, Newcastle having a number of strong options at centre-back but after that you have the energetic Matt Ritchie, an inconsistent Jonjo Shelvey who can be very good, an injured Mikel Merino who looks to have great promise, plus maybe DeAndre Yedlin who with his pace has a chance of developing into a very good player.
After that, it is as Rafa Benitez says, relying on a group of players with little to choose between them but who all offer hard work and discipline.
Which maybe brings us to Aleksandar Mitrovic. He is the one who doesn’t really offer a high energy, lots of running performance, which is no doubt why he has had such limited pitch-time under Rafa Benitez, even in the Championship. However, he has got a knack of scoring goals, and has continued to do that for his country.
The other player maybe capable of much better is Dwight Gayle, if he can keep away from injury and stay fully fit. He showed last season he can be a very good finisher and in limited starts for Crystal Palace he also scored a decent number of goals in the Premier League. Could today be the day for one or both of them to make their mark and be ‘big game players’?
Rafa Benitez answers a question at his Friday press conference:
‘Obviously you are going to have to make some changes, you are going to be forced to make some changes. Are you then looking also at the psychology of which players to put in for the game. You know, big game players who can go to Old Trafford and hold themselves?’
“If you have on the bench maybe five or six top class players, costing you £40m (each), then you are thinking all of these things…
“What we have is a group of players that are working very hard and it doesn’t matter who you pick.
“They will be ready mentally, physically, whatever.
“If we are not ready for this kind of game then we have to consider working harder.
“For me it is not an issue, we are watching the players every week and we know how they are, the mentality they have.
“But we don’t have five players in one position that we can choose this or the other one.
“We have to choose the player that we have and I am happy with that.”