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With eight games to go, Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United sit top of the Championship and the Premier League is in sight.But they still have work to do, with both Brighton and Huddersfield Town breathing down their necks as they approach the run-in.
The international break gave the club time to collect their thoughts ahead of the final games but Benitez remained at the club’s Benton
training base. There was no press conference this week so we opted to put some of the big issues raised in our Big Toon Survey back in
January – and the ones on fans’ minds now – to the United boss.
1.-Has the season gone to plan so far? Did you expect to be in a better position?
Everybody was talking before the start of the season about the difficulty of this division So I’m happy with our position especially if you
consider in the last five years many of the teams that have been relegated couldn t go up in their first season in the Championship.
It is true that we have dropped points in some games we had hoped to win but we are at the top of the league at the moment, and we have
been there for much of the season. That is where we were aiming to be, so we are on target. We all need to keep our composure and stay confident.
2.-Are you confident of winning promotion to the Premier League?
I have to be. This group of players have been working so hard that they deserve to win promotion but we know there still is a long way to go. April is a very important month, with seven games and 21 points to play for we must stay focused and also calm.
3.-Why can’t Newcastle replicate their away form at home?
Teams play differently at home and away. When teams come to St James’ Park they often can come with a defensive approach so it can be
more difficult to break them down sometimes. But we have five games at home to improve and I’m convinced we will do it.
4.-How can the fans help in the final eight games?
Our fans have been magnificent during the whole season, they are incredible.Now we have reached the final stage of the season it is the time to be even better, if they can. They can help with their support of our players.Even if we make mistakes the key is to help the players to try again, to be sure they have the confidence and support to succeed in these final eight games.We are together in this race, we are at our strongest when we are united. The fans, the players, the staff – all of us helping to achieve our
5.-Do you think the atmosphere at home games makes it difficult for the players? Or are you pleased with it?
Our supporters deserve the greatest respect this season. They always amaze us with their passion and their commitment at home and away.
But it is true in all things in life, that those closest to you can often be the most critical. That is normal, they have earned the right to criticise
and criticism is important for improvement.
However at this stage of the season, with so much at stake, encouragement can help the players achieve better results. A positive atmosphere is very helpful for the players, they take the energy from the stands and use it raise their game. It is also up to us to lift our fans by playing better. As I said before, all of us must be united.
6.-Why do you not play with two up front more often? Is it something you will try?
It depends on the players in the squad, who is fit, who is training well (and) which team we are facing. If you play two up front, you have to
consider how that could that affect the strength of your midfield, there are lots of things to think about when we select our team and
We have done this in some games but to play with two strikers could be negative if that means you lose the control in other parts of the
pitch. I would ask people to consider that we are at the top of the table, scoring more goals than any other team in the division and conceding less
than the others - to change our shape it could be right, or maybe not. What we are doing is working.
7.-Some fans say that you are too cautious: do you think this is true?
As I said before we are top of the table and we score more goals than any other team in the division and don’t concede many - our goal
difference is 38 at the moment. You just have to look at our statistics and compare them to the other teams in this division.
It would be a mistake to think that we are always able to run at teams and get the victory because of the quality in our squad. There are many
other teams in this division with great strength and quality Some people could look at our game plan away at Huddersfield and say it was too cautious, and that we should be pressing from the first minute to get the win. But our approach to sit back and let them come at us was the best tactic for that particular game. Football management means considering every opponent and every game in isolation and deciding what is the best way to win each game.
8.-Are you confident the club has a bright future?
Yes, this is a big club and we can have a very bright future I’m sure. The fans are incredible, the stadium is superb, the staff, everything is in
place to allow this club to achieve great things. But first we have to reach the target, we have to remain focused on only one thing and that is securing promotion.
We can’t make the mistakes of the past and start running without walking first. If everyone can stick together and help the team go up then
we can talk about the future. Then we have the chance to dream.
9.-Will you be doing more off-the-field things at the club in the near future?
Yes, it is important to me and my staff that the club has a strong and warm connection with the city and with the local community. Our players and staff attend regular events in the community and we have been to many this season.
There will be many more to come in the future, but as everybody can understand now it is time to focus on the remaining games of the season.
- Diego Alonso on Rafa Benítez
- Rafa Benítez, in the 'Hall of Fame 1,000 Club'
- Florian Lejeune on Rafa Benítez
- 350,000 reasons to keep going
- Rafa Benítez in Calcio Napoli 24
- Video - Benítez: "We have to give a applause to our fans"
- Benítez: "To be here is a great privilege"
- Benítez: "Newcastle has a bright future"
- MBF thanks M53 Ford in Birkenhead
- Rafa's roadtrip around Newcastle