Isaac Hayden delivers a stunning assessment of working under Rafa Benitez at Newcastle

Newcastle United's Isaac Hayden.
Newcastle United's Isaac Hayden.

Isaac Hayden says playing under Rafa Benitez is a “different ball game”.

The midfielder joined the club in the summer from Arsenal, where the hugely-experienced Arsene Wenger oversaw his football education.

Yet Hayden’s eyes have been opened further by Benitez since he made the move to Tyneside.

The 21-year-old – who hopes to face Preston North End in the EFL Cup at St James’s Park tonight – says the amount he’s already learnt under Benitez is “startling”.

Asked about Benitez’s tactical acumen, Hayden said: “It’s a different ball game.

“I worked with Arsene Wenger, but maybe because I wasn’t really treated as a first-team regular there, it was a little bit different and I didn’t really open my eyes to certain things, whereas here I’m treated as a first-team squad member and I feel I’ve contributed.

I couldn’t have imagined learning this much so soon. It’s almost been starting. The experience and the knowledge that he brings to the squad is second-to-none.

Rafa Benitez

“I couldn’t have imagined learning this much so soon.

“It’s almost been startling. The experience and the knowledge that he brings to the squad is second-to-none.”

Hayden – who helped Hull City win promotion to the Premier League last season during a year-long loan at the KCOM Stadium – feels Benitez is making it “easy” for his players to tackle one of the hardest divisions in football.

“I think it’s just individual management,” said the Chelmsford-born player. “He’s so easy to talk to.

“It’s so easy on the training pitch. He knows when to be serious or when not to be serious and have a laugh.

“He engages really well with the lads and everyone takes on board what he says.

“Some things he says, you sit there and think and say ‘oh, OK’, and it hits you afterwards what he’s said. It’s incredible.”

Championship leaders Newcastle have won their last five league games.

And Hayden – who came off the bench late in the weekend’s 3-0 victory over Ipswich Town – feels the tactical work “perfectionist” Benitez is doing on the training pitch is evident each time the team takes to the field.

“The main thing is that we know exactly what we’re going to be doing on the pitch,” said the England Under-21 international.

“In the last few games, you can see everyone’s on the same wavelength.

“It’s not about perfection, as you can never reach perfection, but he’s a perfectionist, and every little detail has to be correct.

“That filters through to the players and the fans.”

Hayden’s two first-team appearances for Arsenal came in the League Cup.

And it’s a competition he says United are treating with respect this season, despite the club’s primary goal being promotion.

“I played against West Brom and we won, and the next round we got Chelsea. I didn’t play in that,” he said.

“The following year we played Southampton and got knocked out again.

“It’s a competition that a lot of other clubs might look down on or not take seriously.

“Here, the manager breeds a winning mentality and everyone wants to win every game and play every game.

“Everyone’s on board with what the group and the staff want to do.

“It shows out in training. Some players might get a chance, others might be rested. You just don’t know. Everyone’s on their toes.

“The main thing for me is that everyone’s focused and doing the right things on the training pitch.”