ONE of Rafael Benitez’s biggest strengths is developing talent and helping teams to grow, his career record proves that – and he feels he is doing just that at Newcastle United.

The league table at this pretty early stage of the season proves his methods are working too, and a look at those he sends out to play offer further proof. None more so, perhaps, than Isaac Hayden.

Hayden might have had a grounding at Arsenal’s academy but he had never played in the Premier League until this season. After impressing in the Championship last year, Hayden has become a key midfielder under Benitez in the top-flight.

His place is under threat all of the time because of the competition he has with Jonjo Shelvey and Mikel Merino for a starting spot, but Hayden has been the one to retain his place out of that three so far – even if he will be taking out at some point.

The 22-year-old, hoping to stay in the side at Burnley on Monday, is enjoying himself under Benitez and is determined to keep improving because he holds big ambitions.

Hayden, who has had a couple of years working in the Championship with Hull and Newcastle, said: "That's what everybody wants to do. Every player wants to play in the best division in the world. I'm just enjoying it.

“I'm going to have bad games and good games. But I'm learning as I go along and trying to improve week by week and take little things from each game. Staying fit this season is the most important thing for me. I just want to try and stay fit and do my best.

"The players are just better at this level. That's it. The tempo's quicker. The players you're playing against week in, week out are just better players. The divisions don't lie. The players who play at that level for a long time aren't bad players.

"People might look at it and say 'Crystal Palace are in the bottom three', but they've got some very good players in that team. They made it very difficult."

Hayden’s performances reflect what Benitez is trying to do. Newcastle have adapted well to the Premier League and, speaking to Spanish newspaper Marca, he is looking for the standards to keep rising.

He said: “It is a young team, next to Liverpool and Tottenham. And it’s positive, because we can grow.

“It’s a good time (in career). I am young for this profession and have been through many experiences in different countries, all of which have enriched me.”

Benitez is clearly enjoying himself on Tyneside, and his appetite to succeed at St James’ Park will only grow if a takeover is successful and he is given funds to strengthen his squad.

When asked if he would be interested in leaving to take on the Spanish national team job, he said: “I always say the same thing with respect: for the moment I will not speak about it. I am happy here and I have years on my contract.

“It depends on how my career progresses. If I do well here, then maybe; and if not, obviously, the national team won’t happen. Let’s see what happens in a few years.”

For now, then, it is all about delivering for Newcastle and Benitez’s players are all enjoying themselves in the top-flight after climbing to seventh after nine matches. Nobody is getting carried away after another victory against Crystal Palace last Saturday.

Hayden said: "I don't really think the lads do look at the table, because it's pointless at this stage of the season as there are so many games to go and points to play for. It means nothing.

"The most important thing we look at is each game. Three points were up for grabs (against Palace), and we took them. The next game's another opportunity to get three points.

"We found you have to find a way to win the whole of last season. There were games where people thought we would win, and we didn't. Football changes all the time.

“You have games like Southampton, where we should have got three points. That's football for you. There are ups and downs. We're ready for that during the season."