Rafa: We can beat

Sunday Sun - - Football - Mark Dou­glas

RAFA Ben­itez does not fear New­cas­tle United’s haz­ardous win­ter fix­ture list – be­cause he reck­ons his team of Pre­mier League rook­ies can beat any­one on their day.

That is the up­beat mes­sage Ben­itez gave to his play­ers at the train­ing ground this week as he at­tempted to lift spir­its and keep the play­ers con­fi­dent and anx­i­ety-free fol­low­ing a dam­ag­ing cou­ple of games. Ben­itez told his stars: 1. We have had a good start and we’re all in it to­gether; 2. We will get bet­ter if we stick to our plan; 3. Don’t worry about our tough games, we can beat ANY­ONE and; 4. To ig­nore crit­i­cism of in­di­vid­u­als and to con­cen­trate on the team.

United have racked up 14 points from their first eleven games – EIGHT more than they had man­aged in the first 11 games of the Steve McClaren Pre­mier League sea­son, which is the last time they were in the top flight.

The caveat to that is that United have only played two of last sea­son’s top four so far this sea­son – and are yet to play any of the top six away from home yet.

McClaren’s men racked up 13 points from the equiv­a­lent fix­tures in the year that went down – which paints a con­fus­ing pic­ture of how to as­sess what feels like a solid start to United’s cam­paign.

On the plus side, they look more or­gan­ised, com­pact and de­fen­sively drilled than at any point in the last decade or so.

New­cas­tle’s de­fen­sive record is the fifth best in the di­vi­sion – only bet­tered by Spurs, Manch­ester United, Manch­ester City and Burn­ley.

But there are jus­ti­fi­able con­cerns over their goalscor­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties: their ten goals this sea­son put them 13th in the top flight and three of them were scored in one game against West Ham.

Ben­itez re­tains an air of calm about pro­ceed­ings and has told his play­ers not to worry too much about the ups and downs they will en­counter this sea­son – be­cause they are a “young team” who are learn­ing to find their feet in the Pre­mier League.

Af­ter the stat about their dif­fer­ent Pre­mier League starts was put to him, Ben­itez said: “Ev­ery year is dif­fer­ent.

“Peo­ple com­pare the stats year on year and it’s fine. Maybe you see a ten­dency about how dif­fi­cult the league is or how many points you need.

“But in this case the Pre­mier League is get­ting stronger and stronger so maybe we have done even bet­ter to get those points?

“Lis­ten: I know we have to play against all the top sides be­fore the end of this part of the sea­son.

That is why I have said be­fore ‘In Jan­uary, we will know where we are’.

“I’m sure we will be stronger in terms of the un­der­stand­ing be­tween play­ers and how we will do things in the sec­ond half of the league but you can be really good against the top sides and still lose.”

Ben­itez has spent the last week try­ing to calm down fears that United’s back-to­back de­feats are a sign that they will strug­gle in the mid-win­ter.

He knows the team re­quires re­in­force­ments and is more than aware of their short­com­ings, which have partly con­trib­uted to los­ing tight games against Burn­ley and Bournemouth be­fore the in­terna- tional break. But there is no prospect of him chang­ing his ap­proach, rip­ping up the blue­print that he for­mu­lated be­fore the sea­son started to try­ing to com­pletely al­ter the way the team play to fit in cer­tain play­ers.

In­stead he sees sal­va­tion in work­ing on the train­ing ground and at­tempt­ing to find “pos­i­tive” so­lu­tions through metic­u­lous plan­ning for the tough fix­tures that are com­ing up.

“The main thing is to get the points and to re­alise that when you make mis­takes – like we did the other day –we have to find so­lu­tions,” he said.

“Me? I have the con­fi­dence that we will do it but the play­ers have to too.

“I said to the play­ers the other day ‘Lis­ten, if we are at the bot­tom of the ta­ble we still have to stay calm and keep work­ing hard be­cause we have shown al­ready we can beat any­one.’

“We are a young team, learn­ing and the way that we work I am con­fi­dent that we will do even bet­ter.”

With at­ten­tion fo­cused else­where United have been work­ing hard on the

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