Rafa Benitez singles out Newcastle United player for praise

Christian Atsu.
Christian Atsu.

Rafa Benitez has paid tribute to one of the forgotten men in his Newcastle United squad – Christian Atsu.

Atsu has found his opportunities limited since the January signing of Miguel Almiron.

The winger came off the bench in last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Bournemouth as Benitez’s side pushed for an equaliser.

Yoshinori Muto was also handed his first appearance since heading to the Asian Cup in January.

“We have one or two players who, sometimes, they’re not even in the squad, and they’re training really well,” said Benitez.

“Bournemouth was an opportunity for Atsu, and for Muto, to give us something, because you can see them in training, where they’re very professional and they’re working very hard.

“You have to make a decision sometimes to leave them out of the team, and sometimes even out of the squad, but it’s what you have to do. Still they’re ready, and when they come in, they’re ready.”

Benitez, away with Ghana for tonight’s African Cup of Nations qualifier against Kenya in Accra, felt that Atsu made an impact at the Vitality Stadium.

“I want to give credit to Atsu,” said United’s manager. “He came on and was quite good, and gave an impact to the team.

“But Atsu is different to Almiron. Almiron has more pace in long distance, and he can make these sprints and run in behind the defenders to make more space for others.

“I think he (Atsu) is a different kind of player, but the understanding is quite good between the three of them.

“Also, I think the team as a team is more solid. If you take Almiron out and you put Muto, or you put Atsu, then still the team was doing well.

“I think now all the players know what they have to do, and when you put players in different places, it doesn’t make too much difference because they all know what each one has to do.

“You need them to compete, and then that gives you more chances to be more consistent during the season.”