Rafa Benitez insists Aleksandar Mitrovic still has a part to play at Newcastle – suggesting stories linking him with a move away are the work of agents.
Mitrovic has been linked with West Ham, Napoli, Crystal Palace and Porto in the last couple of weeks – the stories coinciding with a run of games where he has been out of the side.
Benitez prefers to play either Mo Diame or Ayoze Perez in behind a lone striker and Dwight Gayle – as the Championship’s top scorer – is his understandable first choice. But Mitrovic has also scored when called upon for both club and country this year.
That has led to understandable speculation but Benitez says that he’s happy with Mitrovic and the striker himself is happy with the way he’s being treated at St James’ Park – where he remains an option for Benitez in the packed festive fixture schedule.
The United manager hinted at changes to his starting XI – saying it would be unlikely that he’d play the same team three times in a row – but Gayle is likely to retain his starting role. Daryl Murphy, who has been performing well in training, will not travel.
And Benitez admitted that his strikers – Mitrovic included – are making life difficult for him. “The most difficult thing is to decide who will be in the squad and the team.
“I have to make these decisions because Daryl Murphy is doing really well. He is very professional and a good finisher. He is not in the squad (for Burton).
“Leaving him and Mitrovic out of the squad and the team is not easy. (But) Dwight (Gayle), the top scorer in the league, is also doing well and we have other strikers who could be playing.
“We have to keep them training well and coaching them properly. Even when they are not playing, you have to try your best for them, too.”
Mitrovic, understandably, wants to feature more prominently.
He made a short cameo appearance at Nottingham Forest in the week that he started – and performed underwhelmingly – against Blackburn. Before then he had been on a good run for club and country and Benitez believes he is settled at United. “Mitrovic would like to play, but he is training well and is quite happy,” he said.
Whether United will be able to keep him that way without playing regularly is another matter.
Mitrovic is not for sale in January despite talk linking him with clubs in Europe and the Premier League – and Benitez thinks the stories are the work of middle men looking to push through a deal.
“It happens. Players have agents, so if they are not playing somebody will try to move him on because he thinks it will be fine - and there is commission in the middle,” he said. “That is the problem with football now.”