Why Rafa Benitez STILL hasn't got a first-choice starting XI at Newcastle

Rafa Benitez says he STILL doesn't know his strongest Newcastle United side.

Monday, 19th December 2016, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 1:58 pm
Rafa Benitez shouts instructions against Burton

Benitez’s Championship-leading team has had a more settled look to it.

Newcastle’s manager made only two changes to the starting XI for Saturday’s game against Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium.

And Benitez – who has rotated his squad over the past few months – had named an unchanged side at the DW Stadium three days earlier.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, Benitez insists that he does NOT have a first-choice XI.

“I will not say that,” said Benitez.

“I will say that it depends on the games. You have to pick in your opinion what is your best team.

“This team has a good balance between ability and physical strength to compete in these kind of games.

“I didn’t know that I was playing the same team (at Wigan), but here I knew that there were some changes because you play so many games in just a few days that you need to make changes.

“This game (against Burton) was more physical, so we knew we needed more of that.

“(Mohamed) Diame was in because you need to balance having some big lads with having some small ones in their with more pace and ability too.”

United beat Burton 2-1 thanks to goals from Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame.

Benitez’s side had to adapt their game to suit the pitch and physical opposition.

“We knew that it could be a difficult game because the pitch could not be in the best condition to play on the floor and have a lot of time, especially when the other team is so tight, so close and are pressing,” said Benitez.

“When you want to control and pass, sometimes you don’t have this chance.

“We needed to adapt, and we did more or less during the first half.

“Especially, we wanted to play behind them and we did it well in the first half. In the second half, they were pushing and pushing.

“We made some mistakes giving the ball away, and we put ourselves under pressure.

“But we showed this maturity.

“We showed this character that you need to show if you want to compete and win these kind of games.”