Rafa Benitez has been explaining his thought process.
A thought process that led to a very surprising team selection against Arsenal, one that left many/most Newcastle fans deflated.
As it happened, Newcastle did relatively well in the first half against a poor Arsenal side, only missing the quality, creativity and killer instinct in the final third.
When it came to decisions, Rafa Benitez admits he faced choices at right back, left wing, centre midfield, right wing and up front.
His thinking becoming even more complicated when Jamaal Lascelles turned his ankle in the warm-up. Though the captain did start, only to go off at half-time having struggled with his mobility.
At right wing it was an easy decision, with the manager saying Ritchie was back to full fitness.
However, neither Kenedy or Shelvey were 100%, leading to the selection of Murphy and Hayden.
As for Rondon and Yedlin, with both not arriving back until Friday from international duty, Rafa didn’t want to risk playing both.
Joselu deputising for Rondon but Yedlin in the team.
You never know what would have happened with a different selection, could Newcastle have just as successfully snuffed out Arsenal in the first half AND created/scored if they’d had the likes of Shelvey, Rondon and Kenedy on the pitch?
I’m guessing those most disappointed with the team selection would probably say that when deciding is team selection, forgetting about fitness/international issues, Rafa Benitez tends to go for the ‘safer’ and more defensive options.
Truth is, that no doubt Rafa is/was no doubt already thinking about the Palace and Leicester matches up next, thinking a fully fit and prepared Kenedy, Shelvey, Rondon can help Newcastle have a real good go at picking up maybe four points, if everything works out and the manager can get his better players onto the pitch.
“We had five decisions to make.
“Ritchie was fine.
“Jonjo was not fully fit…Kenedy was not fully fit either.
“Rondon and Yedlin came back late and so we didn’t want to take the risk with both of them.
“Joselu was doing well in the week so we thought it would be fine.
“Hayden, coming back into the team with energy and desire, we thought he would be fine.
“The fans could see at the beginning the fixtures and (them) saying hopefully we can win against Cardiff (because of the other early fixtures).
“We drew against Cardiff and we could have won, but to lose against the top sides and to lose by this (2-1) margin is something that everybody could maybe have expected, but still we aren’t happy (with the defeats)
“It is something we have to manage, to be sure that we keep the confidence, to keep working like we did in the first half.
“For us it is to be sure that you can be there, that you can create chances, and then if you miss the final pass in the last third, fine, but at least you were there.
“This is the main thing for me and the positive for the future, to manage the games and approach the games like we did in the first half today.
“The second half, asI have said so many times before…as soon as you make any mistakes against the top sides, they can kill you on the counter-attack.”
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2
Newcastle: Clark 90+1
Arsenal: Xhaka 49, Ozil 58
Possession was Arsenal 64% Newcastle 36%
Total shots were Arsenal 12 Newcastle 4
Shots on target were Arsenal 2 Newcastle 2
Corners were Arsenal 4 Newcastle 10
Referee: Lee Probert
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles (Clark 46), Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie (Muto 79), Diame, Hayden, Murphy (Kenedy 69), Perez, Joselu
Darlow, Manquillo, Rondon, Shelvey
Crowd: 52,165 (3,200 Arsenal approx)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2 – Read HERE)
(A third relegation in 10 years on the cards? Read HERE)
(Match ratings of all NUFC players after the defeat – Read HERE)
(Phil Thompson had some strong views on the match – Read HERE)