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Thursday 21 June 2018

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Rafael Benitez: Mind games are irrelevant

Spaniard warns United brilliance could wreck plans.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho

By Damian Spellman, Press Association Sport

Rafael Benitez insists he does not miss the mind games as he prepares to lock horns with Jose Mourinho once again.

The two men have enjoyed a frosty relation over the years and have repeatedly butted heads during careers which have taken both to Spain and Italy as well as the Premier League.

However, as he awaits Manchester United boss Mourinho’s arrival at St James’ Park on Sunday, Newcastle counterpart Benitez insists all the talk off the pitch is largely irrelevant.

He said: “For you [the media], the mind games are more important. For me, it was preparation of the games. I was not worried about the mind games, I was worried about my team.

“If you say something and the other manager says something and you win the game, the assumption is that you are winning the mind games. No, sometimes your team is better or the other is better and that is it.

“Even making mistakes or losing the mind games, you can win the game. It is like this.”

The rivalry between the two men dates back to their days at Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, while both have taken charge at Stamford Bridge, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and each has a forensic knowledge of the other’s methods.

However, Benitez admits ultimately even the best-laid plan can be ripped apart by individual brilliance, and he is acutely aware that Mourinho has more of that at his disposal this time around.

He said: “If you have top-class players and you tell them, ‘I want to do this, and I want to do that’, even if they don’t do what you say, they can still do something different and win the game.

“We had players like Steven Gerrard, who I would tell, ‘Look, Stevie, I want you to do this.’ He would then do it, or maybe he would do it even better than you were planning.

“With these teams [like Newcastle], you have to prepare every single detail, and still they can make the difference with one thing that you are not expecting.”

Benitez’ attempts to curb a rampant Manchester City on Tyneside in December attracted criticism he believes was unwarranted, and he will not shy away from a similar approach on Sunday if it is required.

But asked if, given a free Saturday, he would choose to watch United or City, he replied with a smile: “Newcastle United Under-23s.”

Press Association

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