Rafa Benitez reveals why he left Newcastle’s Henri Saivet out against Man City

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez insisted he didn’t rest players ahead of Brighton and Hove Albion’s visit to St James’s Park.

Newcastle United were beaten 1-0 at St James’s Park by Premier League leaders Manchester City last night.

The game was decided by a first-half strike from Raheem Sterling.

Benitez had made five changes for the game.

United’s manager, surprisingly, left Christian Atsu on the bench.

Fit-again Mikel Merino also started the game on the bench, while Henri Saivet – who, along with Atsu, had scored in Saturday’s 3-2 win over West Ham United – wasn’t involved.

Benitez recalled Rolando Aarons, Jonjo Shelvey, Chancel Mbemba and Jacob Murphy to his starting XI.

Asked if he had rested players for the Brighton and Stoke City fixtures, Benitez said: “No, it was to bring the best players possible for getting something in this game.

“We cannot forget we have a couple of games in the next few days.

“The idea was to have players with pace and play on the counter-attack and then try to create something, which we did in the first half with Rolando and the second half a couple of chances. We were very close.”

On Saivet, Benitez added: “We’re not resting anyone. I was trying to win this game with the players I thought were the best.”

Benitez hopes to have midfielder Isaac Hayden back for the Brighton game.

However, defender Florian Lejeune – who suffered a foot problem in training – will not be fit.

“Maybe Hayden will be available,” said Benitez.

“(Aleksandar) Mitrovic no, (Jesus) Gamez no. I think that maybe Hayden will have a chance.

“Lejeune had a kick in the training session and has a problem with his foot. I don’t think that he will be available.”

Meanwhile, City manager Pep Guardiola gave his view on Benitez’s defensive tactics after the game.

“Any manager can decide what he wants,” said Guardiola, whose side are 15 points clear at the top and have won their last 18 league games.

“I prefer to try to play, but I respect a lot what opponents do, and we have to try to discover how to attack against them.

“Always you have to expect this kind of situation, and it’s not always easy to maintain that level.

“Raheem Sterling’s scoring a lot and is playing good – so we’re happy with that.”