Rafa Benitez has come under fire from Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson for his reluctance to use forward Aleksandar Mitrovic this season.
The former Arsenal man has criticised the Spaniard for not featuring Serbia international Mitrovic, who hasn’t started one single game for the Magpies this season.
23-year-old Mitrovic has been an enigmatic figure since joining Newcastle from Anderlecht in 2015. He featured regularly in his first season for the club, scoring nine Premier League goals, but inconsistency and discipline problems have seen him in and out of the team. As a result, the 23-year-old has played only 89 minutes of league football so far this campaign, scoring a single goal in the process.
However, despite his issues, Merson has claimed that Benitez needs to find a way to get more out of Mitrovic.
In his Daily Star column, the ex-midfielder wrote: “Rafa gets an easy ride because it’s everybody else’s fault. Well, I thought he would stop the rot because he’s a good manager. But he’s making some strange decisions like where is Aleksandar Mitrovic? He wasn’t even on the bench against Everton and they need him in the team.”
“Dwight Gayle is lively, quick and sharp, and Joselu is the same. But they need someone who’s going to put himself about and do the dirty work. I think he has to play.
"He gives them something different. I don’t know what’s gone on there but Rafa needs to swallow his pride and put him back in the team.”
Mitrovic joined Newcastle full of potential for a fee reported to be £13m. He established himself somewhat as cult hero for his robust style of play that quickly endeared himself to the fans - even earning some comparisons with club hero Alan Shearer.
However, it seems unlikely that he will get another chance at the first team with Benitez reported to be keen to strengthen in January, should he be allowed the funds, while Mitrovic could be offloaded to help balance the books.