Newcastle United cup run is a priority for Rafa Benitez – but he will still ring changes

Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

A cup run ranks highly on Rafa Benitez’s to do list at Newcastle United this season.

But that doesn’t mean that the Spaniard won’t make wholesale changes when the Magpies take on Preston in two weeks in the EFL Cup fourth round.

All too often in recent years United have failed to cut the mustard when it comes to the cup competitions. For the last 10 seasons Newcastle have been binned out of the FA Cup before the fourth round stage, on seven occasions in the third round.

Things don’t read much better when looking at their recent record in the League Cup, in its various guises.

Despite the cups not being valued for some time at St James’ Park, that has all changed under Benitez, who knows the value of a run having won almost everything as a manager.

But he has admitted that he may tinker with the team when Preston come calling, especially with the rigours of a 46-game Championship campaign to contend with also.

“We try to put the strongest team out for each game every time,” said Benitez.

“If I pick different players for the cup, it is not because I don’t consider the cup to be important.

“It is just that I see the need to change things for that particular game.

“You might have one player who is level 10, and one who is level seven. But maybe this player who is at level seven, in this particular game, he can give you eight or nine, and the player who is at level 10, maybe he does not have the motivation or he is a little bit tired, so perhaps he might only be able to give you level six.”

In that sense, Benitez admits that, while he holds both cup competitions in high regard this season, it will be a horses for courses selection approach.

The gaffer continued: “You have to make sure you have the right players for the right game.

“If you have a mix of players, with the right match fitness and where one or two have to prove themselves, maybe that is the right team?

“If you are going to the Nou Camp to play Barcelona, it doesn’t matter who you pick because everybody will be very motivated.

“But if you are playing against a small team away, although your star player might be able to win the game by himself, maybe he doesn’t want to be there or he is not comfortable.

“You have to be sure that you find the right balance between players who are playing already and doing well, and players that want to prove themselves and compete.

“Then if you do well and win, the squad will be stronger.

“If you lose, people will say, ‘He is only concentrating on the league’. But you have to try.”

Looking at the way the balls came out the hat, United appear, to many, to have a favourable draw having been drawn against a fellow second tier side and avoided many of the Premier League big boys.

But Benitez does not see it that way.

“In football, you never know,” he said.

“You can think, ‘This is an easy game’. No chance. After, we can be right or wrong. We will see.”