Rafa Benitez: Cup run has done wonders for squad harmony at Newcastle United

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez.
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez.

Breaking from history and taking the League Cup seriously has done wonders for the mentality of Newcastle United’s squad, according to Rafa Benitez.

The gaffer has used the competition to give gametime to some fringe players, who cannot get into his starting in the Championship, week-in, week-out.

But due to his squad size and depth it is difficult to say Benitez has ever fielded a weakened side.

In previous years progress in the competition, often over looked by many of the Premier League’s big boys, has been very low on United’s list of priorities.

As a result success has been few and far between, with United’s run to the last eight under Alan Pardew in 2014 the only real return.

But that approach has been changed under Benitez. He built a squad at the start of the campaign strong enough to fight on all fronts.

And while some managers may see an extended run in the competition as detrimental, Benitez believes it has had the opposite impact at United.

He says squad harmony couldn’t be better, thanks to the Magpies’ quarter-final date, where they face a trip to Hull City in a fortnight.

On the run, he said: “I think it is positive.

“If you have enough players in the squad because and you do not have too many injuries it is positive.

“It means that you have more options as a manager.

“Maybe the players who cannot play in the league games can play in the cup games.

“Then you can keep everyone happy.”

Just last month Benitez, who took Liverpool to the final of the competition in 2005, stated the significance of the competition to United, and himself.

Prior to the Preston last 16 clash at St James, Benitez said: “I know what the FA Cup and the League Cup means to the fans.

“It’s really important to approach the competition seriously and try to win.

“But we don’t go around telling everyone we will win the trophy.”

First thing is first for Benitez and United, though, with a return to Championship action and a tricky looking trip to Leeds United to overcome on Sunday.

The gaffer continued: “We are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment.

“But we make it very clear here, we treat every game like the last one.

“I think it will be tough. They have a good manager. They are in form and they are doing well.

“We have to be ready. We have to be ready against good teams.”

This evening Spain take on England in a friendly at Wembley Stadium, with the country of Benitez’s birth taking on the one where he has spent so many years of his managerial career.

When asked whether he will have divided loyalties, Benitez was diplomatic.

“Yes of course I will be neutral,” he said.

“It is a friendly game and there is nothing to win and nothing to lose.”