Rafa Benitez cranks up pressure on Huddersfield with mind games ahead of Newcastle's visit
Rafa Benitez has cranked up the pressure on Huddersfield Town ahead of Newcastle United's visit to the John Smith's Stadium.
The Championship leaders take on David Wagner’s side this evening in a televised game.
Third-placed Huddersfield are eight points behind Newcastle, though they have a game in hand.
Benitez’s side, the pre-season favourites to win promotion to the Premier League, have had to cope with pressure all season.
Unfancied Huddersfield, meanwhile, have had a remarkable season so far, under the guidance of Wagner, a protegee of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
And United manager Benitez says he’s interested to see how Wagner’s high-pressing team will cope with the pressure now they are genuine contenders.
“At the beginning of the season, everybody was talking about Aston Villa, Norwich, Newcastle United, Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday – all of these teams,” said Benitez.
“Reading and Huddersfield ... nobody was talking about them. But they were doing well, and now they are in a very good position.
“That’s when you have to realise that every draw is a problem, every chance you miss is a problem. That’s when you feel the pressure. So we will see what happens with them in the next 12 or 13 games.”
Pressure is nothing new to Benitez, who managed Real Madrid before arriving at Newcastle.
And the key for 56-year-old Benitez, one of Europe’s most respected coaches, is to “stay calm”.
“At Inter Milan, you’re expected to win,” said Benitez, whose side beat Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday night.
“You go to Liverpool and then everybody was expecting Liverpool to be there, even when you knew that you didn’t have the budget, but people said you have to be there because of the history.
“You go to Napoli and everybody says ‘oh, Maradona was there, you have to win’.
“Then obviously, at Real Madrid, there is expectation too, but it’s not just you as a manager who has to deal with it – it’s the whole club.
“The staff, the players, even the city, they have to realise that you can achieve what you want to achieve, but only if you stay calm.
“Don’t put yourself under any more pressure than you need to by panicking, because I can tell you that at Inter or Napoli or Real Madrid, every game is pressure, pressure. If you stay calm, then you can perform better.”
The Huddersfield game is followed by a visit to fifth-placed Reading on Tuesday night.