Rafa Benitez reveals exactly where Jonjo Shelvey stands at Newcastle United
The midfielder last night played for the club’s Under-23s after being told he wouldn’t make the bench for this afternoon’s game against West Ham United.
Shelvey hasn’t featured at Premier League level for 13th-placed Newcastle since recovering from a thigh injury.
And the 27-year-old, one of the first names on Benitez’s teamsheet at the start of the season, wanted to top up his fitness in the Premier League 2 fixture against Fulham at Motspur Park.
Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff established themselves in midfield during the absence of Shelvey, Mohamed Diame and Ki Sung-yueng.
Like Shelvey, Diame and Ki are also fit, and they are in the squad for the West Ham game.
Asked about his discussion with Shelvey, Benitez said: “The conversation was ‘if I’m not involved, I want to play to improve my match fitness’.
“I told him yesterday when he was training ‘you will not be involved, and you can go’, so we managed him.”
Shelvey’s willingness to play for Newcastle’s Under-23s pleased Benitez.
“I think it was a very positive,” said United’s manager.
“To gain match fitness, you need to play matches. You can train, you can do whatever you want, but if you don’t play matches, you don’t improve your match fitness.
“He knows that. He wanted to play to ensure he can get that change of pace, the contact, and all these things you can get during matches.”
Benitez now has five fit midfielders for two positions.
“It’s very easy – you have Sean and Hayden doing well, still you have Ki, still you have Diame – they were ahead of him (Shelvey), and they’re not in the team, so you have five midfielders now for two positions,” said Benitez.
“We don’t have the space – physically, you cannot put more than 18 players. Someone has to stay out, and that’s my problem when I have to decide.
“Many people say ‘yeah, but Jonjo could be (playing)’. Yes, could be, but we’re doing well, so for this game, this can help.
“The Burnley game was an example. We put Diame on the bench, because we though that could be physical and in the end he was on the pitch, so it depends on the game, but you have to manage.
“Ki has the quality, Diame has the physicality, so for Jonjo to go ahead of him he has to do really well and be the right one.
“When you are getting results, and are consistent, it’s because the squad is good.
“Sometimes, you’re lucky and you have 15 players and all of them are fit – they don’t have injuries – and are doing well, fine.
“But, normally within a season, especially in the Premier League, it’s very strong physically so you need players and a squad – so now we have a lot of players.
“At the beginning, we have four or five injured, not too many, but now we have just two so we have more available.
Asked if Shelvey, under contract at St James’s Park until 2021, still has a future at Newcastle beyond the end of this season, Benitez said: “I think so. He’s under contract.”