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Benitez boosted by returning bodies

Written by Rory Mitchinson

Rafa Benitez is happy to have increased competition in his Newcastle United squad as players return from injury in time for the season’s closing weeks.

Only Ciaran Clark and Dwight Gayle have been absent from the Magpies’ training sessions in recent days, with the former now “very, very close” to being back in contention after a knee injury.

Though Gayle is set to miss Good Friday’s visit of Leeds United and Easter Monday’s trip to Ipswich Town because of another hamstring problem, Benitez feels the frontman could still feature before the campaign is out.

And, with more-or-less a full squad to choose from once more, the Spaniard is confident all of his players will be kept firmly on their toes as a defining period begins in earnest.

“It is good news for our team, and for our fans, that we have just Clark and Dwight not training – doing their rehabilitation instead. Clark is very, very close, and we will have to see how Dwight improves. With the others, we have to decide whether they can play or not,” he said.

“With Dwight, we don’t like to put a time on it. It depends how he progresses. Today he was running a little bit, which is good.

“It can happen. He has been really good for us for a lot of months. Now, we have to be careful a little bit, but it is not a big issue because he is a strong player and he can do well.

“I like competition between players, and to have players coming back. Now, you have more bodies available, and they have to compete. Nobody can say, ‘I will play because I was good’ – no, you have to keep being good, because if you are not, maybe someone will take your position.”

Under Garry Monk, the Magpies’ next opponents have enjoyed their best campaign for many a year, and sit a comfortable fifth in the standings with just a handful of games remaining.

Though Newcastle ran out 2-0 winners at Elland Road in November, Leeds have barely looked out of play-off contention all season, with Benitez paying tribute to the Whites’ young manager after an impressive start to his time in charge.

“He has done a great job. I think he is a good manager. I could see at the beginning of the season – when they were under pressure – that still he was doing well, improving, and winning a lot of games in a row, and they are in a good position now because of that,” he said.

“We did really well against Leeds in the first game. Hopefully we can play at the level we used to play – especially when we played against them. The last two games at home, we won – (people were saying), ‘Oh, they were difficult games’ – yes, but we won. I think we have a clear idea – we have to give everything to try and win this game. It doesn’t matter the name of the other team.”

"I like competition between players, and to have players coming back. Now, you have more bodies available, and they have to compete."

Rafa Benitez

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