Rafa Benitez says its not just Newcastle United fans that are kept guessing about his team – as his players are also left in the dark.
Benitez has “rotated” players on a game-by-game basis so far this season.
United’s manager has repeatedly changed a winning team.
Benitez, mindful of the physical and mental demands of a 46-game Championship season, is keen to manage their workload.
And he often sleeps on his team selection after discussing his starting XI with his staff and only finalises the side on the day of the game.
The 56-year-old – whose third-placed side takes on Aston Villa at Villa Park this evening – doesn’t tells his players his team until an hour and a half before kick-off time.
Asked about his selection process, Benitez said: “I speak with my staff, watch the training sessions and then you can feel how players are thinking about their own fitness once you speak with them.
“After the session you go, talk with the pillow – that’s a Spanish expression – and then you decide.
“If I have any doubts, then I will talk with my staff again.
“So, for example, for Villa the training sessions over the last couple of days have given a lot of indications about some players.
“That makes it very clear and then you have one or two members of your staff confirming what you have seen that some players might not be right or they are fit.
“It depends on the game as to how long we wait. In this case I have a very clear idea.
“But I always say ‘wait until the last minute’. Maybe in the morning something will happen, someone might have a headache and you have to change something. I never worry about that.
“For example we had a situation when I was at Extremadura when we had to put 16 players on the list. We had 17 players fit on the Friday, and we had to play on the Sunday.
“We did the Friday training session and then my assistant said to me ‘oh, 17 players – we have to leave one out. Who?’.
“We still had the Saturday training session so I just said ‘calm down’.
“The day after one player twisted his ankle so we had 16, that’s it.
“Sometimes you have to wait and decide the team on the day of the game. Sometimes you already know.”
Benitez is expected to recall Dwight Gayle, Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba to his starting XI against Villa.
Asked when his players find out if they are playing, he said: “One hour and a half before the game in the dressing room at the ground.
“Sometimes they already know from training sessions, but sometimes I mix it up.
“You will know maybe 70% of the team, because I am just changing a couple of players in training. But I try not to let them know until the last minute, because they need to be ready in their head.
“Some players they need to know before, some they just have to be ready and that’s it. We know they will be ready.”