NEWCASTLE UNITED suddenly have the options to make selection problems harder for Rafa Benitez, and the Spanish manager thinks that has helped improve fortunes in the Premier League.

The Magpies head into today’s visit of West Ham sitting level on points and a place above their opponents in 13th place, a heartening position after a depressing start to the campaign which left them without a win in nine top-flight matches.

That sequence of results had increased the concerns about relegation that surfaced at the end of the summer when Benitez was not given the backing on the transfer front he would have liked.

But now Newcastle are looking for a fourth win in a row when the Hammers visit Tyneside and Benitez thinks having more players available and others finding their feet at the club are the main reasons for the turnaround.

Now the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, on the bench at Burnley on Monday, and captain Jamaal Lascelles, who could be available today, are no longer assured of the starting spots they were at the start of the season.

“It’s the number of players I have available, it’s a good problem,” said Benitez. “The top sides now, it’s not the same when they lose a player.

“They have 18-20 players and they can change one for one and you will not notice. But for us, to have the full squad, is a really good problem. We will play so many games in December and will need every player.

“The players who weren’t playing were really good professionals and training really well. I always tell the players who aren’t playing, ‘you have to train harder, because if you give up, after one month you will not be fit’.

“A player who is not playing has to train harder because they cannot get the match fitness. That is the positive about these players, they came in and played well, in this case three games in a row.”

Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar are expected to keep Lascelles out until he can prove his worth again, while Shelvey has lost his shirt to Ki Sung-Yeung in the middle. The three summer signings have really settled in the absence of the English pair.

“I told the players it’s one game at a time, it’s crucial to understand that, every game is a final for us,” said Benitez. “I told the players we have done nothing yet, we still have to win a lot of games to get to 36 points.

“Even when it was difficult I was convinced we would do well. Now we’re in a good run and we have to carry on. West Ham have spent £100m and have experience and quality everywhere, it is always a tough test.”

Benitez was linked with the West Ham job in May following David Moyes departure. The former Liverpool boss was high in the London club’s sights having previously discussed the post with them before his Newcastle switch in 2016.

But West Ham went for Manuel Pellegrini instead, possibly because of the compensation fee involved in having to take Benitez, who has always maintained he has been focused on improving Newcastle.

He said: “The question with West Ham was when I was in Napoli. Then I got a phone call off Real Madrid. At this time I was interested. I do not have anything I can say about this or that (from May). As I said before it was one of the options back then. That is why people talk about me and West Ham.”

Benitez’s current terms expire in the summer and whether he signs an extension will be down to the backing he gets from the top. Asked if he would break the transfer record this time, Benitez added: “We have to find the right players, sometimes it’s not about the money. You’ll have to ask Mike Ashley (about transfer record), not me, to answer.”