Rafa Benitez gets African Cup of Nations lift ahead of Newcastle’s visit to Blackburn

Christian Atsu in action against Forest
Christian Atsu in action against Forest
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Rafa Benitez will have ALL Newcastle United’s African Cup of Nations-bound players available for the club’s visit to Ewood Park.

Benitez is set to lose Mohamed Diame, Christian Atsu and Chancel Mbemba to the tournament, which kicks off early next month.

But the trio will not leave for Gabon until after Monday’s Championship game against Blackburn Rovers.

Newcastle went one point clear of Brighton and Hove Albion after last night’s 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest at St James’s Park.

Asked if they would be available for the Blackburn match, Benitez said: “All of them. They are here until January 3.”

Ghana international Atsu started the Forest game, while Diame (Senegal) and Mbemba (DR Congo) were named on the bench.

Meanwhile, Jonjo Shelvey is training harder than ever as he bids to get through a “frustrating” few weeks, according to Benitez.

The midfielder was last week suspended for five games after being found guilty of racially abusing an opponent by an independent panel.

Benitez has not devised out any special training programme for Shelvey during his absence from first-team football, though the 24-year-old will sit out any tactical work.

“He’s training as usual,” said Benitez ahead of tonight’s home game against Nottingham Forest.

“He’s training hard. He has the same training as the others, but he’s not taking part in the tactical work. He’s training very well.

“The official position is very clear. He’s frustrated, because he has to be away from the team and he’s not happy with that.”

Benitez will not arrange any behind-closed-doors games for Shelvey during his suspension.

“If you think about how many games, and how many days, he’s suspended ... it’s not many days in all,” added Benitez.