Rafa Benitez has a double headache at relegation-threatened Newcastle
Rafa Benitez has admitted he's got his hands full at both ends of the pitch at Newcastle United.
Benitez will take charge of the relegation-threatened club for the first time tonight after his appointment as manager last week.
The Champions League-winner has been tasked with keeping United in the Premier League.
But Newcastle – who take on Leicester City at the King Power Stadium – have just 10 games left this season.
And the club is second-bottom and a point adrift of safety.
United struggled to score goals all season under Steve McClaren, sacked hours before Benitez’s appointment on Friday.
Newcastle have also been found wanting defensively, and Benitez had just three training sessions to work on tactics and team shape for the Leicester game.
“If you have a team that is really good in possession, and you are much better than the opposition, you have to think in terms of attacking,” said Benitez.
“If you have a team that has problems in defence, then you have to improve the defence. That much is obvious.
“In this case, we have to improve both parts of our game in attack and also in defence.”
Asked if he would prioritise one area, Benitez added: “In terms of the team and the next games, it is always easier to improve in defence.
“Why? Because it is very simple. The goal is 7.32m by 2.44m, which is quite small.
“Your goal is (has to be) small for them so you can clear the ball and you are a great defender. You have to score in a small goal.
“That is the reason, Alan Shearer was so good to score there. It is easier in terms of your work, but you cannot just concentrate on that. We also have to score goals.
“We have to do both things at the same time.”
Benitez started the season working with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at Real Madrid.
And the 55-year-old will have to quickly assess the squad he has at St James’s Park.
Asked if he would use the same training methods as he employed at that club, he said: “No, you change, obviously, depending on the players that you have.
“You change. So in this case, you have a lot of players maybe you can use as a holding midfielder.
“It is different. They qualities you have, maybe one has more technique or more aggressive or in the air. So you have to adapt depending on what you have.”
Benitez has hinted he won’t take any risks with players returning from injury against the league leaders at the King Power Stadium.
Winger Andros Townsend and midfielder Cheick Tiote were among those who missed last weekend’s home defeat to Bournemouth through injury, while others, including striker Papiss Cisse and forward Siem de Jong, are close to their comebacks.
“We have a lot of injured players coming back,” said Benitez. “Maybe if someone is coming back, he is an important player for you, but after one week (of training), it is a risk.
“You have to decide if it is a too big risk or you can take that risk, so everything is different and you change the approach.”
Benitez’s arrival has changed the mood on Tyneside. Fans chanted for McClaren’s dismissal during the 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth last weekend.
However, there’s now renewed hope that the club can stay up.
“The most important thing for the supporters will be to see their team in the Premier League next season,” said Benitez, who confirmed in Saturday’s Press conference that he has a break clause in his contract allowing him to leave in the event of relegation.
“So they know that we need them. I think they will support the team.
Meanwhile, Benitez is yet to speak to chief scout Graham Carr, who has been widely criticised for his recruitment in recent seasons.
However, he feels he can work with Carr, though he believes the club must “change” its approach.
“I haven’t spoken to him, but I know him and I have friends that know him,” said Benitez.
“I don’t see any problem. He is a football man, we will talk about football, we will talk about players and I think we will be fine.
“I understand why the club is going in this direction.
“And I have to explain why we have to change a little bit, and I think that will be good for everyone.”