Benitez expects '100% in every game'

Spaniard confident his experience will help save Newcastle from relegation

LONDON • Rafael Benitez's mission to haul Newcastle United out of the English Premier League relegation zone begins in unfavourable circumstances today as his side visit leaders Leicester City.

Appointed manager on a three-year contract on Friday following Steve McClaren's dismissal, the Spaniard has just 10 games to steer the club 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.

A young fan poses next to a poster of newly appointed Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard insisted that "we have a very good group of players and quality in the squad". PHOTO: REUTERS

"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 per cent every game.

"The fans will be behind us and will help. We need everything."

Benitez's last season in English football was 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 manager Claudio Ranieri continues to draw encouragement from the season's chaotic nature.

"The league this year is crazy," said the Italian.

"For this reason, we are fighting because anything could happen... I am focused on Newcastle. The three points are very important."

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 last time out.

Central midfielder Matty James has returned to training after a knee injury that has kept him out for the entire season to date, but he is unlikely to feature in the squad for today's game.

Meanwhile, Benitez was quick to make his presence felt as soon as his appointment was confirmed, cancelling a planned day off for his players and bringing them in for a hastily convened afternoon training session on Friday.

He will be without left-back Paul Dummett, who aggravated a hamstring problem during the 3-1 home defeat by Bournemouth that spelt the end of McClaren's tenure.

Captain Fabricio Coloccini is a doubt with a calf injury, but winger Andros Townsend hopes to overcome the hamstring problem that has caused him to miss the last two games.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'Benitez expects '100% in every game''. Print Edition | Subscribe