Rafa Bentez says that he has found out a lot more about his players during this challenging season, on returning to the Premier League.
The Newcastle boss following the old adage of finding out a lot more about the character of people [players] when you are up against it.
When everything is going swimmingly and the team winning regularly, as was the case last season in the Championship, it is more difficult to judge.
However, this season for both established players and those brought in after promotion, the ups and downs have clearly sorted quite a few issues for Rafa Benitez.
This means he will be well-armed when he approaches this summer’s transfer window, knowing who he can rely on and needs to keep, whilst others haven’t made the grade in terms of ability and/or character.
The shocking run from October to December of only one point from 27 was painful at the time for both Rafa and the Newcastle fans…but in hindsight was probably instrumental in helping the manager to decide what he needed to do in the second-half of the season and who he should place his trust in.
That painful nine match run has been followed by 13 games where the only defeats have been to Liverpool and Man City, this season’s Champions League quarter-finalists.
Rafa says some of his players were maybe affected by the pressure of the Premier League ‘but a group of them were quite strong.’
When you look back, it does appear that the manager reached a point where he decided that these players were the ones he was going to rely on, with others dropping more or less permanently out of sight.
The likes of Shelvey, Diame, Dummett (back from injury), Gayle, Perez all becoming automatic choices as well as Dubravka and Kenedy when they arrived on loan. Whilst others such as Manquillo, Joselu, Mbemba, Atsu, Hayden and Merino have found themselves watching from the sidelines.
Obviously it doesn’t mean all of this latter group are written off….but I have a feeling only Merino has what it takes to bounce back and be competing in Rafa’s thoughts.
“Obviously we changed some players [last summer and in January], and some of them have improved a lot.
“That is really important when you are thinking about the future, some of them you know a little bit better…how they react when something is right, something is wrong.
“We are learning a lot of things from them.
“Some of them, maybe they were more affected [by the pressure this season]…but a group of them were quite strong.
“Altogether, they reacted really well.
“It is always good when you test your players in difficult situations.”