By Danny Wright

Rafa Benitez has highlighted the upcoming international break as a golden opportunity for some of Newcastle’s key players to regain their fitness.

Many first-team players looked drained of energy during their goalless draw with Birmingham on Saturday as some key men sat on the sidelines.

Dwight Gayle has struggled to reach his optimum level of fitness after he picked up a hamstring injury in January and has failed to complete 90 minutes of a league game since the opening match of 2017.

As well as Gayle, Jonjo Shelvey had to start on the bench on Saturday after suffering with a fever during the week.

Benitez has also labelled the competition between Gayle, Daryl Murphy and Aleksandar Mitrovic as healthy.

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“It is in the international break now, and that gives us an opportunity to improve the fitness of some players,” said Benitez, as quoted by the Shields Gazette. “I can only see that as a positive.”

“We have seen how important he is to us right through the season,” said Benitez. “We have competition up front and that can only be positive.”

Gayle has scored just once since injuring his hamstring two months ago and Benitez has since experimented with Mitrovic and Murphy as lone-strikers since.

The Irish striker has also had his injury problems this season and has missed a large portion of the Magpies’ campaign.

However he appears to be Benitez’s first choice at the moment after bagging two goals in his last four appearances.

After the international break has finished, Newcastle have back-to-back home games against relegation-threatened Wigan and Burton.

In other Newcastle news, Benitez is reportedly looking to make a move for this Manchester United outcast in the summer.

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