Newcastle United midfielder Isaac Hayden has revealed that manager Rafael Benitez has an intense focus on the job carried out by his defensive midfielders.
The central enforcer, who arrived from Arsenal in a £1.5million deal during the summer of 2016, quickly established himself in the Magpies’ starting Xi during their campaign in the Championship, building up a partnership with Jonjo Shelvey on the way to the second tier title.
With the arrival of Mikel Merino from Borussia Dortmund in the last transfer window, Hayden has found himself rotating in and out of the side, alongside the Spaniard, Shelvey and Mohamed Diame.
However, that may be due to Benitez’s precision when trying to pick the right balance in the centre of the park, with the 22-year-old revealing the manager’s intense demands set upon his midfielders, specifically those entrusted to carry out the defensive duties, which were evident from the first time he met the Spanish coach.
Speaking to the Guardian, Hayden said: “He started asking me questions. ‘Right, if the ball came in from here and the centre-halves are here, where would you be?’
“Sometimes, he said: ‘Brilliant.’ Other times, he said: ‘No. That’s a very English answer.’ It was like a coaching session at the first meeting.
“He’s literally obsessed with it (the defensive midfield role). He played that position himself. He wants to talk non-stop.
“I could play really well and he’ll never say: ‘Well played.’ He will always tell me I was out of position by two yards in a particular situation. It’s just how he is. You have to be bang on it in every way.”
Since arriving from the Gunners, the midfield enforcer has gone on to make 54 appearances for the Magpies, scoring three goals and chipping in with four assists, with the first Premier League strike of his career coming in the 2-2 draw with Southampton earlier in the campaign.
In other Newcastle United news, Kieron Dyer has revealed his verdict on the club’s survival hopes.