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Why would Rafael Benitez take over at Newcastle?

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With Steve McClaren fired by Newcastle United on Friday, former Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez has replaced him.

One of the biggest questions about Benitez coming in is: why?

[ MORE: McClaren fired by Newcastle ]

Benitez, 55, was fired by Real Madrid in January but his pedigree of managing some of the top teams in the world is remarkable. Quite why he is ready to risk his managerial reputation and dive head first into a relegation battle is perplexing, but he’s doing it.

The Spanish coach arrived on Friday and after days of negotiations, he will officially replace McClaren. The biggest change here is that he was named as the new “manager” and not “head coach” as a huge reshuffle in how the club is run is expected.

Benitez has signed a three-year deal — his first game in charge could be against Leicester City (Watch live, 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) next Monday — and if he fails to keep Newcastle in the Premier League he has a break clause to walk away.

That reported deal is worth $6 million a year, so there’s a big reason why Benitez could be willing to take this gamble. Money talks. But so does the opportunity to resurrect a giant.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Benitez hasn’t been in a relegation battle before, but he has built something up from the bottom as he led Valencia to two La Liga titles and UEFA Cup success during his time at the Mestalla. Newcastle is a very similar size club to Valencia and if Benitez can save them this season, there’s the potential to push them back to the top 10 of the PL. But only the potential.

Plenty has to change from owner Mike Ashley downwards for that to come to fruition, but having a coach who has won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool and has vast experience in the top flights of Spain, Italy and England should be enough for Newcastle’s notoriously hands on directors to hand over the reins to Benitez and his talented backroom staff. Remember, Newcastle were title contenders in the PL not too long ago. They are a huge club with a huge fanbase, but something has been rotten for a long-time and Benitez may soon find out he’s bitten off more than he can chew as the expectant fans heap huge pressure on the players and the coach.

[ MORE: Latest PL standings

The Magpies currently sit in 19th place and have 24 points from their opening 28 games of the season, but sit just one point from safety with North East rivals Sunderland, plus Norwich City also in the battle against the drop. It seems almost certain that two of those three teams will join Aston Villa (all but doomed) in the Championship next season, but Newcastle do play Sunderland, Norwich, Swansea and Villa in their remaining 10 games so there’s plenty of points to pick up against relegation rivals.

So, what does Benitez have to work with?

Players like Daryl Janmaat, Jonjo Shelvey and Georginio Wijnaldum have all shown glimpses of their star quality, but they need help. Especially in defense. Benitez is know for providing stability and setting his teams up to defend, so he has to improve Newcastle’s defensive frailties (they’ve conceded 53 goals this season, the third-most in the PL) if they’re going to have any chance of staying up.

McClaren couldn’t get the most out of these talented players and they are under-performing massively. Newcastle spent the fourth-highest amount among PL clubs on new players this season, with $115 million dished out. Benitez’s aim is to now get the best out of what he has between now and May 15 and then, hopefully, he can rebuild the squad. At least it seems like there is now money to spend at Newcastle, but Benitez must spend it wisely if he gets the chance and he’ll certainly have a queue of players who have always been loyal to him who will want to join him once again in England.

Behind-the-scenes, long-term, Benitez will have to make big changes as the Ashley regime has several long-standing members who have largely flown under the radar but have a huge say in transfers and the soccer philosophy with chief scout Graham Carr, director Bobby Moncur and managing director Paul Charnley all seeming to have too much influence on what happens on the pitch. Benitez will want to change that and

Since the Premier League was founded eight teams have changed their manager in March, April or May and all eight have been relegated.

Benitez has a huge challenge on his hands, but if he can save a sleeping giant of English soccer this season maybe, and it’s a big maybe, he can help stir them from their lengthy slumber and finally fulfill their potential.

Sheffield United battle past Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on Sunday, as the Blades’ first home game back in the Premier League ended in victory.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

John Lundstram was the hero at Bramall Lane as his goal just after half time sealed all three points for the Yorkshire club, which was their first PL win since 2007.

Chris Wilder‘s side have now picked up four points from their first two games back in the big time, while Palace have yet to score across their opening two matches.


3 things we learned

1. Bramall Lane can become a fortress: The home fans created a wonderful atmosphere in their first PL home game since 2007, and they dragged their team over the line late on. As hefty challenges flew in and Chris Wilder wound up his players from the sidelines, this will be an intimidating place for teams to play. If the Blades are going to stay up, their home form needs to be very good and it seems like that is going to be the case.

2. Overlapping CBs a joy to watch: Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell marauding down the flanks was a joy to watch, and something we will see a lot from Sheffield United this season. Basham and O’Connell are encouraged to fly down the flanks and join attacks, with the holding midfielders sitting in for them and it certainly gives opponents a very different tactical headache to solve. O’Connell pushed forward down the left wing for United’s opening goal and the overload it created in a dangerous area worked superbly. Pretty soon a lot of other teams will be copying the Blades.

3. Wilfried Zaha not up to speed: In his first start of the season, Zaha spent most of the first half having a row with the home bench and fans. Roy Hodgson was hoping he would be focused after a summer-long saga which saw him state his desire to leave Palace, but moves to Arsenal and Everton both fell through. Zaha’s display on the pitch looked like a player who doesn’t really want to be at Palace. That is very worrying for the Eagles.

Man of the Match: Chris Basham – A dominant force in the air and on the ground, the center back held United’s defensive unit together and he epitomized their gritty display. The Blades’ longest-serving current player stood tall.


After a steady start to the game for both teams, Sheffield United started to cause plenty of problems as David McGoldrick had a shot blocked and Palace managed to scramble clear from a corner as the hosts built up a head of steam in the first half.

Callum Robinson struck an effort over the bar as the Blades dug deep and substitute Luke Freeman (who replaced the injured John Fleck) brought plenty of energy to the midfield battle.

The Blades should have taken the lead just before half time as Lundstram’s perfect cross the back post found McGoldrick but Vicente Guaita saved well.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sheffield United got off to a perfect start in the second half as Jack O’Connell raced down the left flank and Freeman cut inside and sent a ball across goal which Guaita saved but the ball fell to Lundstram who slammed home to send Bramall Lane wild.

That opening goal sprung the game into life as Andros Townsend‘s deflected shot from distance was pushed out by Dean Henderson and even though Palace tried their best to get into the game, Sheffield United’s defense held firm.

Some meaty challenges flew in late on as substitute Ollie McBurnie made a nuisance of himself, as the home fans roared their team to victory.

Report: Alexis Sanchez pushing for Inter Milan loan

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A report from Italy states that Manchester United are in talks with Inter Milan over loaning Alexis Sanchez for the 2019-20 campaign.

Sanchez, 30, has reportedly asked United to send him to Inter for the upcoming season as the Chilean star has failed to settled at Old Trafford over the last 18 months and scored once in 20 Premier League appearances last season.

He has yet to play this season or over the summer after being injured playing for Chile in the Copa America this summer, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been positive about Sanchez whenever he’s spoken about him this summer and said wants to keep him at Man United.

However, per the report from Fabrizio Romano in Italy the former Arsenal star wants to head back to Serie A — where he started his career in Europe with Udinese — and Inter only want to pay $16.6 million to sign him permanently next summer when he will still have two years left on his contract at United.

With the summer transfer window still open in Germany, Spain and Italy until Sept. 2, this move is something to keep an eye on.

This is a big call for United.

Do they really want an unhappy and lackluster Sanchez around, blocking the pathway for the likes of Mason Greenwood to break into the first team?

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard will provide goals and will be helped out by Juan Mata and Greenwood, but if one of Rashford or Martial gets injured, Solskjaer’s attacking options diminish quite rapidly.

Selling Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan already has them down a senior striker and if they have to subsidize Sanchez’s huge wages just to send him out on loan, is it really worth it?

After VAR drama, does new handball law need to change?

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The fallout from Manchester City and Tottenham’s wild 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium continues, as late VAR drama stole the show with Gabriel Jesus‘ strike ruled out deep into second half stoppage time.

[ MORE: VAR drama dominates

Jesus’ goal in stoppage time was ruled out for a handball on Aymeric Laporte after being checked by VAR, as the new laws brought in by IFAB this summer were interpreted correctly. The exact same thing happened as Wolves had a goal chalked out against Leicester during the opening weekend of the season.

But do those new laws need to be tweaked?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The new rules state that if there’s a handball in the box from an attacking player which either a) leads to the ball going into the net or b) leads directly to a goal being scored, then it will be called a handball.

However, the same law states that if a defending player handles in the box then it is down to the referees discretion to decide whether or not it was a deliberate handball.

As you’d expected, Man City midfielder Ilkay Gunodgan has strong feelings on this law change, and our broadcast crew discuss whether or not this law needs to be changed in the video above.

The overall feeling is that the law needs to tweaking to state that handballs in the box by either attacking or defending players are treated the same and called a handball.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United host Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane on Sunrday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blades fans will enjoy their first home game back in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Chris Wilder, the lifelong United fan who is now their manager, will be emotional and fans of the Yorkshire club will create a heated atmosphere for opponents to visit this season.

In team news Sheffield United are unchanged from the team which drew at Bournemouth last week, with club captain Billy Sharp on the bench.

Crystal Palace bring in star man Wilfried Zaha who starts up top


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