Benitez explains why he played Atsu upfront ahead of Joselu

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The midfielder was handed a different role against the Potters which his gaffer was happy with

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez has lauded his side's performance following a crucial 1-0 victory over Stoke City on New Year's Day at the Bet365 Stadium.

The Spanish manager surprisingly left out Joselu and Dwight Gayle, fielding Christian Atsu upfront behind Ayoze Perez and although the Ghanaian failed to hit the back of the net Benitez was impressed with his output.

"It was really good. I was really pleased with the way the players were working on the pitch, trying to do everything I wanted. It was very pleasing," Benitez said as quoted by Gazette Shield.

"It was difficult for us with the team selection after Brighton, because the players were tired, so we needed to mix things up a little bit. It was quite good.

“I knew that Atsu could play in this position, because I knew him before. Ayoze has very clear movement, and the understanding between him and Atsu was very good," he said.

He added: "Then the rest of the team was helping them upfront with good passes and movement. After that, they were defending all together, and that was key.

"They started making crosses from everywhere, and we needed to cope with that, and we did well. They created some pressure, but we still had time to create three or four counter-attacks, and we could have finished the game."

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Atsu has now made 18 appearances in the Premier League, including 15 starts and boasts of two goals.

Newcastle have now moved out of the relegation zone and currently sit 13th with 22 points, four points above safety.

 

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