Benitez send message to Newcastle squad over Prem run-in
Rafael Benitez has told Newcastle to approach each of their remaining nine games as cup finals as they attempt to secure their Premier League status.
The 16th-placed Magpies face Southampton, who are just one place and a single point worse off, at St James’ Park on Saturday knowing victory could prove invaluable to their cause.
However, Benitez is refusing to pile any more pressure than necessary upon his players as they head into a fixture which could have a significant say in their fate.
He said: “Every game is important. This is the most important because it is the next one, but we have to keep going to the end.
“We will be trying to win, but we will be doing that until the last one. Every game is a final for us now.
“Every game against a team that is close to us, I am sure people will say it is a six-point game, but we just have to do our best to get the points and then see where we are in the table. There are still a lot of games to play.”
Newcastle will run boosted by the memory of their last outing at St James’ Park, when they beat Manchester United 1-0.
The game pitches the Magpies boss into direct competition with a man who both played for and worked under him in Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino, and while the two men enjoy a good relationship, that could present its own problems.
Benitez said: “He was my player and assistant for a while and he is someone who knows me very well. I know him too and it will be hard for either of us to do something that the other one is not expecting.”
Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey could yet be involved after returning to training following the knee injury which kept him out of last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Liverpool with the manager ready to make a late decision.
However, loan striker Islam Slimani, who is yet to make an appearance for the club, will not be involved once again as he continues his recovery from a thigh injury.
The Magpies do not have a game for three weeks after the Southampton clash, and Benitez has confirmed that he plans to take the players to Spain for a four-day training camp followed by a friendly with Belgian side Royal Antwerp among their possible opponents.