Rafa Benitez makes pledge on his Newcastle starting XI for Man City game

Rafa Benitez remains convinced Newcastle United can stay in the Premier League '“ even though his team missed his half-season points target.
Rafa BenitezRafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

Benitez wanted at least 20 points at the halfway point in the season.

However, Newcastle – who take on league leaders Manchester City at St James’s Park tonight – are two points short of that target with 19 games gone after winning one of their last 10 games.

That victory came against West Ham United at the weekend.

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“I said if we can’t get 20 points by halfway through the season, then we have to take 25 during the second half of the season,” said Benitez. “So, OK, we’ll do it.”

Unbeaten City are 12 points ahead of second-placed Manchester United.

Asked how Newcastle can beat them, Benitez said: “The problem is that we talk about managers, but we really need to talk about teams and players.

“You can prepare the best tactics in the world and still you can lose.

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“Sometimes, it depends on the players. In fact, the majority of the game depends on the players – they make the difference.

“So, obviously, we’ll try to prepare for the game in the best way possible.

“Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible to win? Also yes, because that’s football, but we’ll see.

“We’re the first team that they will play against for a few days, so we’ll see if we can beat them.”

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Benitez, while mindful of Saturday’s game against Brighton and Hove Albion, insists that he’ll name his strongest team against City.

“We will try to win with the best team available for this game,” said United’s manager.

Benitez thinks it’s too early to judge Pep Guardiola’s City side.

“We have to wait and see at the end of the season,” he said. “Is it a great team? Yes. If they win the title, continue winning and play well, then maybe (they could become the greatest Premier League team).

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“The main thing is to be consistent for years, not just to win one or two years.

“I’m sure if they do well, if they keep winning, then the other teams will spend money to compete again.”

Benitez knows Guardiola – who took charge at the Etihad Stadium last year – well.

“I know him and people on his staff who were with me at Liverpool,” said Benitez. “We know them quite well.”

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Meanwhile, Mohamed Diame – who scored at the London Stadium – wants Newcastle to build on their 3-2 win over West Ham.

Diame said: “It’s important, because we need to build from this game now,” said Diame.

“The performance of the team was good.

“We now have to prepare for Manchester City, because it’s coming very quickly, and again try to get points from these games.

”We’re in a good way – we have to keep working.”