Rafa Benitez has a message for his players ahead of Newcastle’s season-opener against Tottenham

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.

Rafa Benitez says he’s all but decided on his starting XI for Newcastle United’s season-opener.

Benitez’s side beat Hellas Verona 2-0 at St James’s Park yesterday in their final pre-season friendly.

It’s not the Championship any more – it’s the Premier League

Rafa Benitez

Newcastle open their Premier League campaign on Sunday with a home game against Tottenham Hotspur.

The teamsheet for the Tottenham game will not be much different to that he handed in for the Verona friendly.

Benitez will be without injured defender DeAndre Yedlin, while striker Dwight Gayle – who missed the Verona game – is a doubt.

Asked about his team selection for Tottenham, United’s manager said: “In the last two games, the majority can be there.

“But we have time and I like competition between players.

“The main is that – like last season – we need competition in every department.

“Then players will realise you have to give everything.

“It’s not the Championship anymore – it’s the Premier League.

“Everybody has to create problems for me.

“If they work hard and train well, I have to decide who to pick.”

Ayoze Perez and Christian Atsu netted early goals against Verona.

“It was an entertaining game for the fans,” said Benitez.

“We scored two goals, had other chances and tried to do what we wanted to do.

“We moved the ball quickly, regained it as soon as possible when giving it away and tried to have a high tempo.

“There were a lot of positives. It’s our last friendly and had nothing to do with the Premier League, but we tried to do the things we wanted to do.

“The aim was to give minutes to a group of players who needed match fitness.

“Now we will try to improve fitness further from now until Sunday.”