Rafa Benitez reveals why he left Joselu on Newcastle’s bench – and fielded Ayoze Perez and Christian Atsu up front

Ayoze Perez takes on Stoke's Erik Pieters.
Ayoze Perez takes on Stoke's Erik Pieters.

Rafa Benitez explained the thinking behind his team selection after Ayoze Perez gave Newcastle United fans a Happy New Year.

A second-half goal from Perez gave Benitez’s side a 1-0 win over Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium yesterday.

The result saw the club climb up to 13th in the Premier League table.

Benitez had named Dwight Gayle and Joselu on the bench – and paired Perez up front with Christian Atsu.

“I knew that Atsu could play in this position, because I knew him before,” said United’s manager.

“Ayoze has very clear movement, and the understanding between them both was very good.

“Then the rest of the team were helping with good passes and movement.

“After that, they were defending all together, and that was key.

“They started making crosses from everywhere, and we needed to cope with that, and we did well.

“They created some pressure, but we still had time to create three or four counter-attacks, and we could have finished the game.

“It was really good. I was really pleased with the way the players were working on the pitch, trying to do everything I wanted.

“It was very pleasing. It was difficult for us with the team selection, because the players were tired, so we needed to mix things up a little bit. It was quite good.”

Benitez has been changing his team throughout the hectic festive period.

And the Stoke result means that Newcastle have now taken seven points from their last four games.

“When you win, the changes are right,” said Benitez. “When you do not, maybe not.

“When you change players, it’s much easier when everybody knows what they have to do.

“We changed some players, but we know from the training sessions that the partnership between Ayoze and Atsu is good.

“I knew that Atsu likes to play between the lines and could do well.

“You also saw (Mohamed) Diame and (Jonjo) Shelvey play well together, and that is what we’re doing in the training sessions.

“We change players, but they know what they have to do, and hopefully when they have to do it in a game, it will be fine.”

Joselu, signed from Stoke in the summer, didn’t make it off the bench.

“He had some cramps the other day, so I couldn’t play him,” said Benitez.

“Maybe I could have at the end, but it would have been a risk, and I don’t want to take a risk when you do not have too many players.

“We have to manage what we have, especially with the strikers.

“We had to make sure the players could recover and be on the pitch. With his cramps the other day, we didn’t want to take any risks.”

Newcastle take on Luton Town at St James’s Park on Saturday in a third-round FA Cup tie.