What Javier Manquillo, and a telling statistic, tells us about Newcastle in the Premier League
Javier Manquillo wasn't at the top of Rafa Benitez's transfer shortlist last summer.
But Benitez needed a right-back at Newcastle United.
And Manquillo was cheap, available and versatile.
Benitez also felt that Manquillo, relegated with loan club Sunderland last season, was a young player he could improve over time.
The 23-year-old would be used as cover for DeAndre Yedlin – and Paul Dummett at left-back – in the club’s first season back in the Premier League.
Benitez didn’t plan on using Manquillo too much in the first half of the season.
It didn’t work out that way.
Manquillo has played 1,620 minutes of Premier League football (out of a possible 1,980) so far this term.
Only Matt Ritchie has played more league football than Manquillo, signed from Atletico Madrid last July.
Manquillo was pitched in from the start with Yedlin sidelined, and he was switched to left-back once he returned to fitness.
The flipside is that Manquillo, thrown in at the deep end, is improving thanks to the football he’s had at United.
Manquillo had a difficult season at Sunderland last, and also an unsuccessful loan at Liverpool earlier in his career.
Still only 23, he’s getting better under Benitez, though with Dummett now fit, he will find it harder to get a game.
Yedlin and Dummett could start in the full-back positions against Swansea City at St James’s Park tomorrow.
Injuries, meanwhile, have limited the minutes played by Dummett and striker Dwight Gayle.
Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, such an influence in the Championship last season, has only played 1,029 minutes.
The 25-year-old has been unavailable for a further 450 minutes because of suspensions.
Second-bottom of the minutes table is one of the club’s most talked-about players.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, sidelined with a back problem, has played just 89 minutes so far this season.
Mitrovic, Benitez’s third-choice striker, has had a frustrating few months.
And the Serbia international, desperate to be playing week in, week out ahead of the World Cup finals in the summer, is ready to quit the club in this month’s transfer window.
Mitrovic just needs to play, though Benitez will not allowed him to leave unless he can secure a replacement.
Benitez has favoured Joselu, though Gayle, troubled by a hamstring “issue” early in the season, has played more football over the past couple of months.
Joselu, another cut-price summer signing, has played 1,370 minutes of league football so far this season.
Gayle, last season’s leading scorer, has played 981 minutes.
Both players have scored three league goals, while Mitrovic has netted once in the league.
Propping up the minutes played table is midfielder Henri Saivet, who played 84 minutes against West Ham United before Christmas.
They were 84 memorable minutes.
Saivet, in the shadows up to then, made a mistake for West Ham’s goal at the London Stadium before redeeming himself with a stunning free-kick. The 27-year-old might not play too many more minutes for the club he joined in the summer of 2016.
What the minutes played table does is underline just how challenging this season has been, and will continue to be, for Benitez and Newcastle.
Benitez has a limited squad, and he’s been without some key players for key periods.
And the more he can get from the likes of Manquillo, the better.