Rafa Benitez explains his decision to leave out captain Jamaal Lascelles

Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez

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Rafa Benitez said he won’t be afraid to make more big decisions after dropping Newcastle United captain Jamaal Lascelles.

Lascelles was left out of Benitez’s starting XI against Reading last night – just a fortnight after the former Nottingham Forest defender was handed the skipper’s armband.

United manager Benitez instead fielded debutant Ciaran Clark in the heart of his defence.

Lascelles came off the bench late in the game, which Newcastle, beaten in their first two Championship outings, won 4-1.

Asked about his decision to leave Lascelles out of his starting XI, Benitez said: “When I was talking with Jamaal, I was saying we needed someone who would be positive on and off the pitch.

“He has to understand the role of a captain, and he was fine.

Jamaal Lascelles

Jamaal Lascelles

“I have to pick the team not thinking about that, but thinking about the best players for every game.

“The main thing for me is the reaction of the players who are on the bench or in the stands.

“They have to realise that we have to create a positive environment of competition between players. That is the best way to be sure we have a big enough squad for the next 43 games.”

Benitez was also pleased with the performance of forward Yoan Gouffran, who was handed a surprise start.

He has to understand the role of a captain, and he was fine.

Rafa Benitez

“Until the end of the transfer window, it is quite complicated to keep everybody focused,” he said.

“But we are doing what we have to do every week. We were talking about Gouffran, and maybe he was thinking about offers that could come, but he had to play and he did really well.

“It is not easy for any player to think ‘I have to be really concentrated and focused when maybe tomorrow I will leave’, but you have seen examples in the Premier League of players playing one game and then leaving the following day for another team.”