Jaap Stam gives his verdict on Newcastle as Rafa Benitez eyes midfield breakthrough

Rafa Benitez's Newcastle are nine points clear of Jaap Stam's fourth-placed Reading
Rafa Benitez's Newcastle are nine points clear of Jaap Stam's fourth-placed Reading

Jaap Stam says his Reading team can’t catch Newcastle United in the Championship – as it’s now become a three-horse race.

League leaders Brighton and Hove Albion are two points ahead of second-placed Newcastle.

In-form Leeds United are third in the division, seven points behind the Magpies, and fourth-placed Reading are nine points adrift of Rafa Benitez’s side.

Newcastle and Reading meet at the Madejski Stadium on March 7, but Stam does not believe his team can catch them.

“It’s difficult to get them,” said Stam, whose side was beaten 4-1 at St James’s Park early in the season.

“Brighton have been up there in the past couple of seasons, and have been working on their team in that time in getting players in and playing in a certain way.

“Newcastle got relegated, spent a lot of money to get quality players in, and you see with a good coach (Benitez), if you do it well, then it’s very hard for the other teams who don’t have the money to get other players to get close to them.

“We are fourth in the league, but we are not thinking about trying to beat them in the sense of ending up first or second.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian midfielder Gabriel has emerged as a potential transfer window target for United.

Benitez is looking to strengthen his midfield options in the window, and reports in Spain claim that Newcastle are interested in signing Gabriel on loan from Leganes.

The 23-year-old joined the La Liga from Juventus last summer and signed a three-year deal with the Madrid club, who he had previously represented on loan.

Benitez is well-connected in the Spanish capital, having been a player, coach and manager at Real Madrid.

And the Newcastle’s manager has kept a keen eye on players based in Spain since taking charge at St James’s Park.