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Rafa welcomes selection headache

Written by Tom Easterby

Rafa Benítez says he welcomes the selection headache he’s been presented with as his Newcastle United side look for a fourth straight home win against Burnley on Tuesday night (8pm kick-off).

The Clarets arrive at St. James’ Park unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games and fresh from a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

But the Magpies have won their last three games on Tyneside and, with almost all of his first team squad now fit and available for selection, Benítez says he’s pleased to have a few difficult decisions to make ahead of the midweek clash.

“I said before that almost everybody is fit, we are winning, we played well (against Huddersfield Town), we created chances, so everybody is more or less happy,” he said, describing the situation as “a good problem”.

“It’s a problem for me, because I have to make a decision in terms of the squad and the 11 starters. The only thing I can say is that the players who are not involved are training really well and you have to praise them, because they are very good professionals.”

Benítez will be without the services of Rob Elliot and Ciaran Clark but says the rest of his charges are in contention for Tuesday’s fixture, meaning the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Mo Diamé and Ki Sung-yueng may again look to stake their claims following recent injuries.

But to return to the side, that senior trio would need to dislodge young midfielder Sean Longstaff, whose assured displays have been crucial for United in the past two months.

“He was doing well in the training sessions, and I remember talking with him before because everybody was saying, ‘he has to go on loan, he has to play’” Benítez said of the 21-year-old.

“I told him he had to stay until January, and after we would decide. He was lucky enough to get a position in the team and he was doing well. After, we decided to keep him, because he was doing well. I’m really pleased.

“In an ideal world, you will be talking about a player coming from the academy, playing in the first team and being, hopefully, an international and a star for his own club. I think that is perfect and at the moment he is doing well.”

New signing Miguel Almirón could again be in line to feature against Sean Dyche’s side, having starred on his home debut against Huddersfield at the weekend.

He was the recipient of the challenge which saw Terriers skipper Tommy Smith red-carded during the 2-0 win at St. James’ but, in response to questions about the Paraguayan adapting to the physical nature of the English game, Benítez said he had no worries about his latest acquisition.

“He has no problem. Watching him in training sessions, he plays with the same style – he’s very quick, and he’s trying to also be in the tackle, so he’s not someone who is scared. Hopefully he won’t have this battle any more, but he can cope with that,” said the Magpies boss.

“He did really well. He knew that he could give us pace and energy, and he did it. He was fine on the ball too – he had a great chance, and it was a pity for him not to score. But everything we were expecting from him, he did it and he did it well.”

"It’s a problem for me, because I have to make a decision in terms of the squad and the 11 starters. The only thing I can say is that the players who are not involved are training really well and you have to praise them, because they are very good professionals."

Rafa Benítez

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