With the turn of the year, Rafa Bentez has made clear decisions on three Newcastle players.
Three Newcastle players who had all played the vast majority of Premier League matches up to that point.
I recall he did something similar in the Championship and even during that brief time he had trying to avoid relegation in 2015/16, having a look at his options and then making the decision to go with a certain group of players, with negative decisions made on others.
Isaac Hayden turns 23 tomorrow (Wednesday) but after starting 14 of the first 21 PL matches, since December he has only started the one game and that was at Man City when Rafa went with a very different team selection and tactics aimed mainly at damage limitation.
Similarly, Javier Manquillo started 18 of Newcastle’s first 22 matches but since New Year’s Day, he too has only started that away match at Man City.
For Joselu, he had 17 starts in the first 21 matches but since December he has only started the away game at Man City and the home game with Burnley, when he fluffed his penalty and United drew 1-1.
You can never say never but whilst all three give it plenty of effort, I think most fans see this trio of players as lacking the quality needed in the Premier League.
Obviously, Rafa Benitez appears to have also come to this conclusion and instead of chopping and changing, or ‘rotating’ in today’s language, he has decided on the players who are capable of performing at the level needed and put his faith in them, whilst others have been cast aside.
Isaac Hayden reflecting on Royal Antwerp friendly and trip to Spain:
“It was a chance for the manager to try some different players and different combinations out on the pitch, so it was a good exercise in that regard.
“The most important thing was that we were able to get minutes under our belts considering we don’t have another game this weekend, then we have such a big game the following week (against Huddersfield).
“Anything can happen with injuries, illness and what not, so we all have to be ready if we are needed – and I’m ready after this runout.
“It was a routine game overall though.
“It was strange waiting to come on knowing you are going to play the full 90 as you don’t usually have that as a substitute.
“But the main thing is that you want to get minutes. I don’t mind if it was even the last 45 minutes, I just wanted to get some game time.
“It’s been difficult to get in the starting eleven as the lads have been doing really well, so I can’t have any complaints at the minute that I haven’t been playing.
“It was just good to get more than 10 or 15 minutes, which is all I’ve been having over the last four or five weeks, so that was nice.
“I felt OK. The game wasn’t played at the highest of tempo, especially from their side, who I don’t think were really playing at a Premier League level.
“But, even so, it’s still minutes under your belt, minutes in your legs and gives us another chance for more game time going forward, which is what we wanted.
“We had four days of good weather to train in out in Spain, a good facility and a nice hotel, so we can’t have any complaints about the trip.
“Now it’s back to England for the non-internationals, and we have some hard work ahead – particularly for those of us who haven’t played too much recently, because we don’t want our fitness levels to drop.
“We’ll work hard over the next week and get ready for another huge game against Huddersfield.”