Rafa ready to resist calls for Mitro role

Aleksandar Mitrovic. Picture by Frank Reid
Aleksandar Mitrovic. Picture by Frank Reid

Rafa Benitez has no fears about making wholesale changes to his Newcastle United XI.

But the manager is likely to resist fan calls for a first-team return for Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Benitez made five changes for the trip to West Brom on Tuesday, with the likes of regulars Jonjo Shelvey and Rob Elliot dropped to the bench.

And while the manager admits he is not afraid of changing his team around, should circumstances force it, Benitez has hinted at sticking with the status quo at Stamford Bridge today.

“It was not a shock to my players,” he said when asked about his team in midweek.

“I like to rotate if I can. I did it at Valencia and made seven changes from one game to another.

“It depends on the level of the players, sometimes it is because you have to do it.

“Some fans have said ‘why don’t you play this player?’ I would say not because he was fit. You can’t explain things like this, like in this case (Mikel) Merino, you have to manage things like this with your fitness coach.”

Many punters are calling for Mitrovic to get the nod in place of Joselu, who has struggled in front of goal of late.

When asked about the Serbian international’s potential involvement, Benitez was coy on the subject. “We have very good competition in the striker positions and I am pleased with this,” said the manager.

Probably the most unexpected change at The Hawthorns came in goal, with Rob Elliot dropping out in place of Karl Darlow, making his first Premier League appearance of the season.

Will Benitez stick with Darlow, or will he go back to the man who was perceived as his No 1?

“You will know tomorrow about Rob,” said Benitez.

“He has trained well. The competition is crucial if we want to stay and survive in the Premier League. I need to be sure we will survive and they compete for the places.

“We were not winning games and I wanted to change something, so everyone was on their toes, to understand what we need to stay in the Premier League.

“I was pleased with the team spirit of everyone playing and not only the 11 but all of the players involved the other day.”

From being one of the tightest backlines in the division just a few weeks back, Benitez’s men have conceded nine goals in their last three games.

The manager says his backline needs time to adapt as a unit.

“My feeling is that the team will improve defensively, it needs time,” he said.

“You could see the team in the beginning, defending as a unit, it was not easy to create chances against anyone.

“Then we got injuries. When you change things, you expect it could be easier, but it’s not like this and the only way is to work harder.”