Rafa Benitez avoiding relegation with Newcastle would be more impressive than his Champions League triumph with Liverpool, according to Southampton boss Ronald Koeaman.
Newcastle trail relegation rivals Norwich by six points ahead of Saturday’s Premier League trip to former Holland defender Koeman’s Southampton.
Former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss Benitez is not ready to throw in the towel on his short-term fire-fighting mission at St James’s Park, and his Southampton counterpart Koeman still believes Newcastle could avoid the drop.
“I am surprised in one way that they are down there because they have good players,” said Koeman of Newcastle’s relegation battle.
“It’s not the first year that they are struggling, but it’s difficult for me to have strong opinions on other clubs looking in from the outside.
“It would be a big achievement for Newcastle to stay up now though, because they are six points behind Norwich.”
Newcastle have just 25 points from 31 matches, and Benitez will know all too well that defeat at Southampton could all but consign the Tynesiders to relegation.
Benitez presided over Liverpool’s fifth European Cup victory, the penalty shootout triumph over AC Milan now dubbed the Miracle of Istanbul.
Liverpool belied underdog status in Turkey in May 2005, staging a second-half comeback from 3-0 down in the final to complete an unforgettable triumph.
Koeman is intent on Southampton claiming victory on Saturday to boost his side’s hopes of Europa League football next term, but did concede Benitez would go down in north east folklore should he reverse Newcastle’s fortunes.
“Keeping them up would be a huge achievement and one to go alongside him winning the Champions League,” said Koeman.
“They have a tough schedule ahead as well, so they know this is a must-win game for them this weekend.
“It’s a must-win game for us too, so it’s a nice game for the neutrals I think.”