Ben­itez sur­vival plans of­fer ray of hope for New­cas­tle

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL PREMIER LEAGUE - By Si Hughes at Anfield

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

They ac­knowl­edge 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 are just one point be­hind Sun­der­land and Nor­wich City, in 17th and 18th place re­spec­tively, though both have a game in hand.

New­cas­tle face Crys­tal Palace, As­ton Villa and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, teams with con­trast­ing mo­ti­va­tions. Next week­end, Alan Pardew re­turns to St James’ Park for the first time since he left the club with a Palace side whose 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 Tot­ten­ham on the fi­nal day.

Benítez’s only vic­tory so far, and New­cas­tle’s best per­for­mances, have been against clubs with lit­tle, or noth­ing, to play for. He be­lieves it does not mat­ter whether New­cas­tle face a team at the top or the bot­tom of the league from here in. 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. We had so many in­juries, es­pe­cially po­si­tions at the back: left-back and the keeper. It was re­ally im­por­tant to give con­sis­tency and be­lief to the team.

“If you are at­tack­ing and scor­ing goals, you can say, OK, 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 OK 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.”

Benítez is rel­ish­ing the chal­lenge be­cause, when he is backed into a cor­ner, like he was at Anfield on Satur­day, 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 Benítez’s fit­ness coach, Paco de Miguel, de­cided it was a wise idea to take on Jür­gen Klopp’s hulk­ing as­sis­tant Peter Kraw­i­etz. Benítez in­ter­vened but be­fore the con­ver­sa­tion could go any fur­ther it was half-time and Benítez was off down the tun­nel.

He had al­ready de­cided to re­place Ay­oze Pérez with Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum by the mo­ment he en­tered the dress­ing room. From there, he tried to re­mind New­cas­tle’s play­ers of how good they could be and 20 min­utes into the sec­ond half, goals from Papiss Cissé and Jack Col­back had clawed back a draw from an im­prob­a­ble po­si­tion.

Benítez, though, seems to be aware that he still needs to in­ject con­fi­dence. “The credit has to go to the play­ers for re­act­ing,” he said. “We needed to show char­ac­ter and be­lief – we did it late but we did it and that is the pos­i­tive thing.

“The play­ers have to re­alise where we are, what we have to do and how we have to play if we want

to stay up. I have said so many times since I have been here they have trained well, worked hard and they need con­fi­dence.

“When the game is 1-0 down maybe away they don’t have the con­fi­dence but they showed char­ac­ter, re­ac­tion and pas­sion.”

On their chances of de­fy­ing the odds by beat­ing the drop, Benítez added: “It de­pends on other teams still but if we can play at this level, fight with this spirit, I think we can do it.

“But we need to get three points against Crys­tal Palace.”

Job well done: Rafael Benítez re­acts af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle at Anfield

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