LONDON. — Rafael Benitez’s mission to haul Newcastle United out of the English Premier League relegation zone begins in unfavourable circumstances tonight as his new side visit leaders Leicester City.
The match starts at 10pm.
Appointed manager on a three-year contract on Friday following Steve McClaren’s dismissal, Benitez has just 10 games to steer the big-spending northeast giants to safety.
Benitez has made his name as a trophy-winner with some of Europe’s most glamorous clubs, but he believes that his experience will prove equally valid in a relegation dogfight.
“I was at Real Madrid as an academy coach, then the second division, first division, and I have experience of promotion and relegation,” he told his introductory press conference on Saturday.
“At the end it’s more or less the same. It’s about how you approach the games and analyse things. You have to be sure everybody is giving everything.
“The responsibility is the same as trying to win a trophy. You don’t want to make a mistake to lose a trophy, you don’t want to make a mistake to be relegated. It’s the same.
“I know we have a very good group of players and quality in the squad. We can give them confidence and from them I expect 100 percent every game.
“The fans will be behind us and will help. We need everything now.”
A trip to the King Power Stadium carried little danger during Benitez’s last season in English football in 2012-13, when he steered Chelsea to Europa League glory as interim manager.
At the time Leicester were an upwardly mobile Championship outfit, but three years on they remain on course for arguably the most spectacular title success in the history of the English top flight.
Leicester’s lead was expected to be trimmed to two points if Tottenham Hotspur win at bottom club Aston Villa yesterday, but manager Claudio Ranieri continues to draw encouragement from the season’s chaotic nature.
“The league this year is crazy,” said the Italian, whose side won 1-0 at Watford on their last outing. “You know my ideas. I still have these ideas. Every decade or 20 years, something strange could happen.
“For this reason, we are fighting because it’s a crazy league and anything could happen. We have to fight and at the end we can say, ‘We have achieved this.’ I said there were five games (before this month’s international break) and then I can say what we can do. Now I am focused on Newcastle. The three points are very important for us.”
Ranieri (64) has much in common with 55-year-old Spaniard Benitez, as both men count Napoli, Valencia, Chelsea and Inter Milan among their former clubs. But the Leicester manager has expressed regret over the dismissal of McClaren, who oversaw only six league wins during his nine-month St James’ Park tenure.
“It’s our job, it’s our life,” Ranieri said. “Sometimes it could happen. I appreciated him. It’s sad.”
Influential winger Riyad Mahrez has been passed fit for Leicester, having been forced off with cramp in his hamstring after netting the winner at Watford. — AFP.