Rafa Benitez issues cup challenge to his Newcastle side
Rafa Benitez has challenged his Newcastle United side to 'show their level' '“ and reach their first cup semi-final in 11 years.
The Championship leaders take on Hull City in an EFL Cup quarter-final at the KCOM Stadium tonight.
Newcastle last reached the final four of a cup competition in 2005.
Benitez, while wary of struggling Hull, is hopeful that United can knock out the Premier League club and progress in the competition.
“It’s an opportunity to show our level,” said Benitez, whose side were beaten 1-0 by Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
“Hull is a Premier League club. They are playing well. They don’t get the results, but they are doing well in terms of football.
“If we can compete and go through, maybe we are strong enough to compete in the league and the cups.”
Benitez – who left captain Jamaal Lascelles and leading scorer Dwight Gayle out of his starting XI at the weekend – will field a near-full strength team at the KCOM Stadium.
Newcastle, under the ownership of Mike Ashley, didn’t prioritise cup success until last season.
Asked about his approach to the cups, Benitez said: “In Europe, clubs have the same feeling that the top sides are so strong that normally you will think ‘I cannot win the cup’.
“I think that everybody can see that a good run in the cup is good for the fans, and good for everyone.
“But in the end it’s so difficult that you have to try. We are trying to use the squad and present a strong team on the pitch.
“If we can go through, then we will keep going. But if I have one or two players with problems, I will not play them just because I want to be in the semi-final.
“I don’t want to lose a player for one month when I need the player for every single game.
“You have to manage the squad. What we did well was to use a lot of players in different games. That means that we have a strong squad. We can change players and still do well.
“Sometimes, like Blackburn, it doesn’t go well. But in the cup we will make changes and, if we can go through, I will be pleased.”
Benitez was disappointed that Hull refused to increase United’s 2,474-ticket allocation.
“I would like to see our fans as many as we can have there,” he said. “But I can’t control the policy they decide.
“Football now, with a lot of TV, has to be more for the fans going to the stadium, enjoying it and creating an atmosphere that will be good for the game. But I cannot change that.”
Meanwhile, Jesus Gamez, needing surgery for a broken collarbone, will be sidelined for six weeks.