No one is heading into the second half of the Premier League season with their eyes open wider than Rafa Benitez.
In fairness, Benitez knew the lay of the land when he took the job as Newcastle United manager in March 2016, when the club was in the Championship following relegation nearly a year earlier.
He knew that transfer and wage funds would be sparse — maybe not this barren — and he knew that expectations would be sky high even after they returned to the Premier League, right or wrongly, due to the size of the club in the city. Now, 33 months later, Benitez is prepared for the impending relegation battle set to unfold over the next five months.
He’s not even trying to sugarcoat the club’s situation — quotes from the Guardian:
“The relationship between my players and myself is quite open and honest. I’m telling them what I think and I’m telling them if we want to stay up we need to work so hard.
“Everyone, players, staff, everyone, has to realize it is so difficult for us. We are competing against the best teams in the world, who are spending massive money and if we think we are better than we are, it is a mistake. The table is tight and it’s not easy. The top teams can punish you. The proof is when we play at home with 52,000 fans, we are not winning as much as we want. Why? It’s the Premier League and our level is our level. I can say the truth to my players and they understand easily what I’m trying to say.”
With 18 games left to play, Newcastle sit 15th in the PL table, three points clear of the relegation zone. They are one of seven teams either currently in the bottom-three of within four points of being so.