Little over a year ago, Rafa Benitez was preparing his Real Madrid side for a title winning season in Spain. Today, the Newcastle United boss still has his eyes on the prize, in somewhat different circumstances, remaining focused as ever ahead of Burton Albion’s visit to St. James’ Park tonight.
Speaking in yesterday’s pre-match press conference, Benitez said the following about Nigel Clough’s Burton side:
“Physically, Burton are strong. They have a very clear game-plan.”
“I like my job!” “The division has been a challenge – all teams play differently.”
“Some teams approach the games more defensively.” “When you are in a top side and you attack you can get exposed.”
“We have to do our job, that’s it.” “We don’t think about a ten point gap.”
I was at the game at the Pirelli stadium earlier in the season and as Benitez says, Burton certainly do pose a physical challenge. They got in our faces, gave our centre-backs no end of long, awkward balls to deal with. They played with real energy and commitment throughout and made Newcastle work for everything they got in a narrow 2-1 win for the Mags.
Given their exploits in their 1-0 win at Huddersfield on Saturday, I imagine that, despite their impressive fitness levels, they will be a little heavy-legged.
With this in mind, I expect Burton to sit deep, try to soak up any pressure and take every opportunity they can to get the ball into the Newcastle box.
Benitez then went on discuss the challenges faced at St. James’ Park this season, calling for focus at this stage of proceedings:
“If you play well you have more chances, but you can’t always play the way you want, because the other teams are competitive.”
“For us, it’s been the same situation – teams coming to St James’ Park is their game of the season.” “We’re used to it.”
“It’s not easy at this stage of the season – everybody is playing for something.” “We have to be sure that we are so focused and we don’t have any distractions.”
Let’s hope the side show no complacency against a battle-ready and resolute Burton side tonight.
Whilst the records suggest we struggle to win back-to-back home games, the motivation must be higher than ever within the Newcastle ranks, knowing a win tonight would be another mammoth step towards Premier League football next season.