Newcastle's Rafael Benitez puts Premier League survival ahead of derby clash
Published 18/03/2016 | 15:16
Rafael Benitez insists ensuring Newcastle's survival in the Barclays Premier League is the overwhelming priority as he attempts to bring an end to the club's derby misery.
The Magpies face neighbours Sunderland on Sunday in a game which could have a major say in both clubs' fight against relegation.
Newcastle have lost their last six meetings with Sunderland and know a seventh defeat could have serious repercussions with an estimated £100million in TV money at stake, although Benitez is adamant it is the bigger picture which matters most.
He said: "This is the game for the fans, it's massive. I'm not too worried about that. I'm confident we can win, but the main thing is staying up. I don't care if we lose the derby and stay up.
"The main thing is to do the job and take the three points because that will give everyone a good feeling, but the priority is staying up. If you can me guarantee me that I lose the derby and stay up, I will take that.
"We will have more chances to win, even if we lose the derby, but it will make it a lot more difficult."
That said, Benitez knows exactly how big a boost a win this weekend could provide for the remaining eight games of the campaign, and having already tasted a 4-0 home defeat by Barcelona in Spain's Clasico earlier this season during his spell as Real Madrid boss, he is in no mood to repeat the dose.
He said: "We will try to keep the players confident to try and make sure we approach the game in the right way. Because it's the derby, it's more important. We have to get three points and that will maybe be the start of something special."
Benitez's relationship with opposite number Sam Allardyce was anything but special during his days in charge at Liverpool, and the pair have sniped at each other repeatedly over the years.
However, the Spaniard believes that will not come into it as they renew hostilities on the field.
He said: "I don't think it's important for the future. I've been away for two and half years and I don't have any problems. I am professional and I want to win the game, and hopefully the players will be the most important thing during and after the game.
"As managers, we can sometimes make a difference and have some headlines, but I don't think that is something to worry about."