RAFAEL BENITEZ has laughed off Jamaal Lascelles’ training-ground bust-up with Mo Diame, and claimed it could turn out to have been a ‘positive thing’ for Newcastle United’s squad cohesion.

Lascelles and Diame came to blows at Newcastle’s Darsley Park training complex at the end of last week, with Jonjo Shelvey fracturing his hand as he stepped in as the peace-maker to pull the pair apart.

The incident was over almost as quickly as it began, and Benitez claims he has witnessed much more serious rows at most of his former clubs. All three players are available for tomorrow’s game at Southampton, although Shelvey is set to wear a protective cast on his hand.

Lascelles and Diame apologised to each other in the wake of the altercation, and the latter has suggested they make amends by jointly paying for a team-building lunch that will involve the whole of the first-team squad. Benitez has given the plan his blessing, and while things might have momentarily got out of hand last week, he will continue to cultivate a fiercely competitive environment on the training ground.

“We like to train hard, and it was something that wasn’t expected,” said Benitez. “There wasn’t a problem, and we had had three parts of the training session, but then in one second…(the clash occurred). And then after that, nothing.

“We dealt with it straightaway, and afterwards it was okay. The day after, they were training on the same team. There wasn’t a crisis or anything like that – I have seen worse than that over the years.

“It was a surprise because we were not expecting it. Sometimes, when you see players, you keep an eye on them and move them on to the same team to make sure nothing happens. In this case, it was unexpected.

“But afterwards, it was Mo’s idea to take everyone out for lunch and buy the lunch for them. They had the initiative to give an invitation to the team. It's something that could have been a negative, but in the end, it's a positive.”

Having drawn a line under the incident, Benitez has been focusing on tomorrow’s trip to Southampton, and a reunion with his former number two.

Mauricio Pellegrino played under Benitez at Valencia, winning the La Liga title and UEFA Cup, and made 13 appearances under the Spaniard at Liverpool, becoming the Anfield club’s first Argentinian player in the process.

Benitez made him first-team coach at Liverpool after his playing career came to an end, and he followed the current Newcastle boss to Inter Milan, where he was appointed assistant boss.

He has subsequently managed on his own at Valencia, Estudiantes, Independiente and Alaves, and he was installed as Southampton boss in the summer following Ronald Koeman’s move to Everton.

The Saints have suffered a stuttering start to the season, and are currently three places below their weekend opponents, but Benitez is confident his former confidante will get things right, even though he will be doing all he can to outfox him tomorrow.

“He was my player in Valencia for two years, and I brought him to England (to Liverpool) to help with the defence,” said Benitez. “After that, he was my assistant in Italy. He went to Argentina, and last year he was in Alaves and doing well.

“He is someone who has always been focused and worked hard. He likes football and likes to study and learn. He knows everything about me because he was my player and assistant. That gives him an advantage, but at the same time we know him really well too.

“It is a special situation because we know each other so well. If you wanted to say something or change something, he would know already. Players don’t analyse the game, but when you are a coach you know tactics and how people prepare for a game. He will have an advantage, but we will have that advantage too.”

Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu are available for tomorrow’s game despite having been withdrawn from their respective international squads as a precautionary measure.

Paul Dummett and Massadio Haidara remain the only unavailable players, with Rob Elliot and Ciaran Clark likely to have had an extra spring in their step in the last few days in the wake of the Republic of Ireland’s dramatic World Cup qualifying win over Wales.

“It can be a good thing to have players who want to play in the World Cup,” said Benitez. “They want to do well. Sometimes, you have players who aren’t playing, but they go with the national team because they want to impress and continue working hard, and you have to take the positives from that too.

“When they go and they maybe have to qualify and they give everything, you’re a little bit worried. But as a club manager, you have to accept it might be like this.”