Benitez eyes lunch treat and a win for Magpies

LONDON • Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez will be looking forward to a lunch treat from two of his players to boost his team's morale after a training ground flare-up.

Senegal international Mohamed Diame and Newcastle's combative English captain Jamaal Lascelles came to blows during a recent training session.

The tiff ended with midfielder Jonjo Shelvey suffering a broken finger as the man many see as a firebrand tried to play peace-maker.

Benitez did not take action against the players as Diame and Lascelles quickly made their peace before Diame suggested the warring duo take the rest of the team to lunch as a way to restore morale.

"It was part of a small training game and there was a fight. Jonjo was in the middle so he was making peace and everything was fine," Benitez said on Friday.

"After the incident, they apologised to each other. Maybe they will buy lunch for everyone - it was Mo's idea to take the team out to lunch. I don't know when or how they will do it."

Benitez - who was frequently called fat and had banners that referred to him as a "fat Spanish waiter" during his unpopular interim reign at Chelsea in 2012-13 - will be hoping to serve up a victory when Newcastle travel to Southampton today.

He will be up against his former player in Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino in the Premier League clash.

Pellegrino played under Benitez at Valencia and Liverpool before joining his coaching team at Anfield.

"He knows everything about me, because he was my player and assistant. He has an advantage, but at the same time we know him really well too," Benitez said.

"He will have an advantage, but we will have that advantage too."

Off the pitch, the Newcastle manager was delighted after the club turned Mikel Merino's loan move from German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund into a permanent deal, with the midfielder signing a five-year contract.

The 21-year-old joined Newcastle on a season-long loan from Dortmund in July and has played in all seven of their league games.

The Spain Under-21 international also won Newcastle's Player of the Month award for August.

"He has settled in quickly, has a lot of quality on the ball and is keen to learn - that is a crucial part of his future development," Benitez said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Benitez eyes lunch treat and a win for Magpies'. Print Edition | Subscribe