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Newcastle preparing for relegation fight: “Our level is our level”

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No one is heading into the second half of the Premier League season with their eyes open wider than Rafa Benitez.

[ MORE: Spurs sail to win at Cardiff City | Arsenal hammer Fulham ]

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.

Benitez crushes refs for Yedlin red after loss to Wolves

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DeAndre Yedlin‘s controversial red card near the hour mark of Newcastle’s eventual home loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers proved deadly, and left Magpies boss Rafa Benitez fuming.

Benitez was so mad, he let the officials hear it on the field, and then after the match didn’t hold back, calling for VAR to be instituted immediately.

[ RECAP: Late Doherty strike wins it for Wolves ]

“We need the VAR, now. I think we need the VAR,” Benitez told Sky Sports. “You can guarantee to me that the player in the corner of the box can score in the top corner every time? It cannot be a red card [on Yedlin]. We have lost three points today and we deserve to win.”

Yedlin was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity, but the controversial decision was made by referee Mike Dean despite the presence of a pair of Newcastle defenders in the area and charging, with Jamaal Lascelles the closest. “The ball was far away and he [Lascelles] was close, close enough at least to see that it was not a clear chance.”

Benitez was also furious about an incident where Ayoze Perez took an elbow from Willy Boly in the penalty area with 10 minutes to go. “It’s so obvious. You see the red card [on Yedlin] and you see the elbow in the face of Ayoze. We need the VAR, right now.”

“I think the team was doing well in the game, but it is very difficult in these situations,” Benitez said. “I don’t need to talk too much because you talk well about the referees, and their decisions that are wrong. Just watch the images, that’s it. It is so clear.”

VAR has recently been confirmed for use in the Premier League starting next season. The league voted this summer on instituting the technology for this season, but instead voted to postpone the system’s installment.

Rafa happy with win streak, but says Newcastle far from settled

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Rafa Benitez is a happier man now that Newcastle United has rebounded from a historically-poor start to the season, but he’s sounding a lot of the same notes.

[ RECAP: Burnley 1-2 Newcastle ]

The level head which kept the Magpies above water, so to speak, when they opened the season with a murderers’ row of Top Four challengers, remains on a pretty even keel with Newcastle on a four-match unbeaten run which includes three-straight wins.

The latest, a 2-1 win over Burnley on Monday, required resolute defense and collective cool after Burnley pulled a goal back in front of a loud and desperate Turf Moor. From The Chronicle:

“I have said before it will be a long running race,” Benitez said. “It is long distance so we have to carry on.

“Now we have won three in a row. What does that mean? Nothing.”

Well, not really nothing…

“We’re happier and have more confidence, but we still have to keep winning games if we want to stay up. It is the same message now as when we were losing. Keep going, keep doing things in the same way.”

Only Wolves and the top six teams on the table have allowed fewer goals than Newcastle’s 16, and the Magpies now have a four-point advantage on 18th place (good for a little breathing room from the drop zone).

Next up is a challenging visit from West Ham and an even tougher trip to Everton before Wolves visit St. James’ Park. Getting four points from that group of games will be an achievement for Benitez.

Newcastle locks up captain, transfer target Lascelles for six years

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Newcastle’s emotional leader and arguable best player isn’t going anywhere*.

Jamaal Lascelles has signed a new six-year deal with the Magpies, keeping him at St. James’ Park through the 2023-24 season.

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings ]

Rafa Benitez called Lascelles “the future of the club and someone who really cares.”

It’s hard to debate that, even beyond the uplifting story of Lascelles helping an Afghanistan veteran in the rain.

Lascelles’ 7.1 clearances per game rank fifth in the Premier League. He’s been linked with most of the Top Four teams at some point, and is still just 24 years oldFrom NUFC.co.uk:

“He’s still a young player, still a young captain and still a young centre-back, so we’re talking about a player who has a great future, because normally you consider the peak of a centre-back could be between 28 years old and 30 years old, so still he has plenty of room for improvement.”

Newcastle has yet to win this season, but defense has not been the problem. Owner Mike Ashley again failed to approve transfers for the sort of attacking talent the club has had in the past.

Unfortunately for Lascelles, the happy day has received some backlash because he had the audacity to give praise to the man who just green lit his new long-term contract and raise: controversial and penny-pinching owner Ashley.

Don’t get us wrong: Ashley is costing Newcastle big time on the table, but being angry with Lascelles for paying a compliment during a massive career announcement? A little petty.

*With the everpresent knowledge that new contracts just raise transfer price tags.

PL Preview: Man United vs. Newcastle

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Manchester United’s search for an end to the four-match winless streak now features a brand new dark cloud hanging over Old Trafford as the Red Devils host Newcastle at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Manchester United vs. Newcastle ]

A major report by The Mirror on Friday claims that Jose Mourinho will be fired following Manchester United’s match no matter the result, surely to dominate the pre-match chatter. Mourinho has had a tumultuous season, as feuds with players like Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial bled over into the media.

United has not won since a Champions League win over Young Boys on September 19th, a run of four matches across all competitions without a win. That stretch has seen them lose to West Ham in Premier League play and Championship side Derby County on penalties in League Cup play, plus draws against newly-promoted Wolves in the league and most recently a boring 0-0 finish against Spanish side Valencia.

Ander Herrera has missed much of the start to the season with an ankle injury, and was thought to be on his way back, possibly returning in this weekend’s match, but the BBC reports he will remain on the sideline. Marcos Rojo and Jesse Lingard also miss out for Manchester United.

For Newcastle, Solomon Rondon is out with a thigh injury, while Paul Dummett and Federico Fernandez are likely to miss out with hamstring problems. The Magpies have only won once in their past 36 visits to Old Trafford, but could have a great opportunity to buck that trend as they face a wounded giant. Newcastle has yet to win a single Premier League match this season, with just two points through the first seven games of the campaign.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on Newcastle’s results: “The results they had against the top teams didn’t get them points yet this season but gave them very, very close results and very difficult matches for the opposition, so we expect a difficult match.”

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez on Manchester United’s struggles: “In all my time in England, I don’t remember any fragile Manchester United team. All of them have been really strong every year with good managers, good players, so I don’t see any fragile Manchester United team.”

Prediction

The new report about Jose Mourinho gives this match an entirely different feel. Could Mourinho indeed save his job with a win? Is it already over for the Portuguese boss? Will the players play for him with his job on the line? Will they throw him under the bus? There’s so much unknown here. What we do know is that both these teams come into the match in poor form, and something has to give. That something feels far more likely to be Manchester United than Newcastle, even if Mourinho is right that the Magpies have deserved more from a number of results. Still, this match has a 1-1 draw all over it, a fitting end to Mourinho’s tenure at Old Trafford.