Rafa Benitez says he wants a cup run at Newcastle United – but NOT at any cost.
The club takes on Championship club Nottingham Forest tonight in the second round of the Carabao Cup.
Benitez, without Jamaal Lascelles, Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie, Javier Manquillo and Isaac Hayden, will make a number of changes for the game against Aitor Karanka’s side at the City Ground.
United’s manager – who had to sell to buy in the summer transfer window – doesn’t believe he has a squad capable of competiting on several fronts.
Asked why he wouldn’t play his strongest available team, Benitez said: “First of all, because we have some injuries. Second of all, because we don’t want to play too many players in three days – for example Ritchie has a knock on his knee, so he cannot play – but some of these players, they were coming back from the World Cup and they were not fit.
“They have to play, if not they will not be fit ever, because the match fitness is something you only get playing games. These players have to play in these games in order to get that match fitness.
Some people say ‘at this stage of the season, you cannot be tired, you can play games, and maybe in April you can be rested’. But the time it takes you to recover, you need at least three days.Rafa Benitez
“Some people say ‘at this stage of the season, you cannot be tired, you can play games, and maybe in April you can be rested’.
“But the time it takes you to recover, you need at least three days. If you don’t have that time to recover, you lose something.
“Even if you have the passion, even if you are fit, you lose a little bit. That is scientific fact, it’s not just my opinion.
“The risk of injuries, plus the risk of players being tired who have not had time to recover for the next game, is massive. And also for the confidence and the team spirit, if you have players in your squad training every day and then you have a game like this when you don’t give them an opportunity to play, then when will they play?
“Imagine that you play against Forest, and then you go through and the next game is against a Premier League team. Again you will not play these players because you have to play your ‘best XI’ every time.
“So, in three months maybe you will have more problems. But if you manage, and in six or nine months you have players who are fitter, then you have to manage all these things together.”
Benitez contrasted his squad with that of Chelsea, who beat his team 2-1 at the weekend.
“You think that you can win the cup if everything is right,” said Benitez. “But you saw the bench of Chelsea.
“Chelsea had a world champion on the bench. Yes, on the bench. Then the other players too on their bench, so that means they can play this competition with players that still will be top-class players.
“So playing with your ‘best XI’ until the end, and the chance you will be better than all of these teams, it really is not too big.
“Then everything has to be right to make sure you can go, you can reach the final and win the final.
“Then if you can go through now, then you will try to analyse what is going on in the future. But you cannot kill your squad now because if you don’t play some players, then already you will lose three or four players (mentally).
“Then, as soon as you have a couple of injuries, your team is weaker and weaker.
“So you have to find this balance between using your squad, being ambitious in the competition and trying to be sure that you have a good team for the Premier League too.”
Benitez would attack the cups – if he had a stronger squad.
“For sure, but I used to win some cups, so I like to win competitions,” said Benitez. “But the cup competition is more exciting, because it’s just one game and you go through.
“In the league you have to be consistent for months, and some people don’t see excitement every game.
“The cup competition is like that, and I like to do that, but I have a responsibility to protect some players if it’s a risk that they can be injured and also give a chance to the others to show something.
“You cannot be telling them ‘you’re doing well, but, no, you will not play’. “You need to find the balance.”
Asked if the transfer window had a bearing on his decision to field a weakened team, he said: “Yes, clearly. You have to manage your squad.
“Depending on the transfer window, your squad is stronger or not. You have to manage the team. You cannot forget that this one has a knock, this one has a problem or this one is tried, or this one will recover more quickly or this one needs more time.”