Before this season commenced, Rafa Benitez said he wanted two different Newcastle starting elevens capable of winning the Championship and that he most certainly has.

United have more than 23 players vying for places in the matchday squad for every game and this has had an immense effect on performances and results.

With the implementation of his new rotation policy, his players are becoming more and more grateful and hungry every time they’re selected as part of the starting eleven.

In the past, players at Newcastle have played under indecisive managers who were incapable of making big decisions like dropping so-called “key players” after weeks of poor displays.

Now, however, the players know that if they don’t perform well enough, they’ll have another member of the squad breathing down their neck as well as a manager who will not hesitate to drop them.

See Matz Sels and Chancel Mbemba as examples. Both endured spells of inadequacy and were quickly replaced by Karl Darlow and Ciaran Clark.

Their replacements have played their parts brilliantly in Newcastle’s dominance of recent fixtures.

Grant Hanley recently said every single player is “itching to play”. This is far cry from the villains of last year’s relegation like Fabricio Coloccini, Moussa Sissoko and others who never seemed too enthusiastic to play in a black-and-white shirt.

In a recent interview, United manager Rafa Benitez said:  “You can tell the players, and still sometimes you cannot control everything.

“They need to be on their toes and (to) know that if they don’t perform well, someone else will be there.

“So I think this positive competition is the key to keep the momentum and keep the team winning.”

Every week we see a player come out and say how brilliant the support from the fans is. This squad appreciates Newcastle United and what it means to the supporters.

Who would’ve thought that having committed players who aren’t actively looking for their next club would improve results?

As United’s superb manager recently put it: “We are not a stepping stone. We are Newcastle United.”