Sunday 26 January 2020

Benitez relishing Newcastle battle to avoid the drop

Liverpool 2 Newcastle 2

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez and Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez and Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Newcastle's Vurnon Anita evades Liverpool's Roberto Firmino. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire.
Newcastle's Aleksandar Mitrovic can't quite reach the height of Liverpool's Kolo Toure. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Simon Hughes

Rafael Benitez's supporters on Merseyside will contend all night long that his time as Liverpool's manager began to unravel when he could not plan his next move because he did not know who to trust.

They feel his achievements before that, when issues around the club's ownership were not such a distraction, were a consequence of his planning and the attention he gave to opponents, figuring out what they would do.

Newcastle have three games left to save themselves and they are one point behind Norwich City in 17th, one place outside the relegation zone, though they will play four times before the season is over.

Newcastle face Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, all teams with contrasting motivations.

Next weekend, Alan Pardew returns to St James' Park for the first time since he left the club, and Palace's league form in 2016 has been awful.

No club as big as Villa have gone down in such pathetic fashion. You would back Newcastle to win those two, and that might mean it all comes down to a title-relegation decider with Spurs on the final day.

Benitez's only victory so far, and Newcastle's best performances, have been against clubs with little or nothing to play for.

However, the Spaniard believes it does not matter whether Newcastle face a team at the top or the bottom of the league from herein. His aim is to achieve maximum points.

"We approach to win," he said, explaining why Newcastle have improved since the initial matches under his tenure in March.

"It was more difficult for me the first few games because we didn't have time to train and prepare and we had so many injuries especially at the back.

"If you are attacking and scoring goals you can say, okay, it doesn't matter if we concede but we were not scoring goals.

"Normally if you want to improve the team, it's easier to start with the defence but at the back we did not have the players, we did not have time.

"We had to play against teams at the bottom as well. If you lose against Man City maybe it's okay but if you draw against Sunderland and lose to Norwich it's a big problem because you see the table.

"You have to forget the table and concentrate on the next. We have to try to win the next three games."

Benitez is relishing the challenge because when he is backed into a corner, like he was at Anfield on Saturday afternoon, he has a track record of finding solutions.

Thanks to Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana, Newcastle were two goals behind at the break and the only passion on their part was coming from the technical area, where Benitez's fitness coach Paco de Miguel decided it was a wise idea to take on Jurgen Klopp's hulking assistant Peter Krawietz.

Benitez intervened but before the conversation could go any further it was half-time and Benitez was off down the tunnel.

He had already decided to replace Ayoze Perez with Georginio Wijnaldum by the moment he entered the dressing-room.


From there, he tried to remind Newcastle's players of how good they can be and 20 minutes into the second half, goals from Papiss Cisse and Jack Colback had clawed back a draw.

Benitez, though, seems to be aware that he still needs to inject confidence. "The credit has to go to the players for reacting," he concluded.

Klopp, meanwhile, has urged his players not to dwell on how they threw away a 2-0 lead ahead of the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Villarreal on Thursday.

"We cannot think about the reason (for drawing) too much," he said.

"We were dominant and played football. We did really well against an intensive opponent but you need a bit of luck in decisive moments.

"I felt we took our foot off the gas a bit. We lost momentum but credit to Newcastle, who probably deserved a draw."

Mamadou Sakho was left out of the Liverpool team after it emerged that he had failed a drugs test last month.

He is likely to ask for his B sample to be tested before tomorrow's deadline after his initial positive result for a substance used in 'fat-burning' supplements. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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