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Rafa Benitez has explained why he decided to omit Salomon Rondon from Newcastle's starting lineup against Liverpool on Boxing Day. 

The Magpies boss made significant changes ahead of the game and decided to rest Rondon, giving Joselu a start up front instead. However, the changes were ultimately unsuccessful as Benitez's side were beaten comfortably by the current league leaders.

Speaking after the game, the Spanish manager explained his reasoning for rotating out Rondon as well as a few other regular names, saying: “It’s what we have to do. When you have a few games in a few days, you need fresh legs, and in these kind of games you have to play with intensity, too.

“It’s impossible without changing. You can analyse things after, but at half-time it was right. It’s just the difference between teams, and the way things were going on with the second goal changed everything.” 

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Yoshinori Muto and Isaac Hayden were also handed rare starts against the Reds as Benitez brought in six different players to his starting lineup, his side looking for a result at Anfield whilst keeping an eye on the congested fixture list. 

The changes continued throughout the game as the Magpies manager tried to get the best out of his entire squad. Coming off the bench, 21-year-old Sean Longstaff was handed his Premier League debut in the second half. 

“I think it will be good and bad memories for him,” said Benitez of the debutant. “Obviously, his debut at Anfield and with a great atmosphere, but bad memories because obviously we lost the game. 

“But he did well, he even could have scored a goal, and that was positive in terms of a young lad coming here and not being scared of trying to do something. Hopefully, he can be an important player for us in the future.”