Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tactical Wins versus Rivals Pay off; THE AGENDA: How Rafa Has Ruthlessly Targeted United's Games against Bottom Eight This Term

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tactical Wins versus Rivals Pay off; THE AGENDA: How Rafa Has Ruthlessly Targeted United's Games against Bottom Eight This Term

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS WAUGH Sports writer chris.waughe@trinitymirror.com

RAFA Benitez felt he was sold short by the Newcastle United hierarchy last summer. He was left with the same disappointment at the end of January, too.

However, even given those successive frustrating windows, Benitez knew he could still keep the Magpies up this season - as long as he squeezed the very maximum out of his resources.

The Spaniard recognised Newcastle could not realistically compete on two fronts, never mind three, and so his desire to lift a domestic trophy with the Magpies had to be put on hold this term.

Yet it is not just within the knockout competitions Benitez has been forced to ration - he has also had to prioritise and target specific matches in the Premier League, too.

It is no coincidence Newcastle's record against the current bottom eight is exemplary, while their results against the rest of the top flight have often been poor, so Benitez has earmarked games against United's direct relegation rivals.

His squad may lack quality in certain areas but they do not lack heart, togetherness and organisation. Victories away against the top-six sides have always seemed beyond them, so Benitez has sometimes taken the damage-limitation approach at grounds like Anfield and the Etihad.

That is why United's goal difference of -9 is far and away the healthiest outside of the top eight. It is essentially worth an additional point to the Magpies, who are already seven clear of the drop zone on 35.

BRIGHTON Yet, as commendable as 12thplaced Newcastle's defensive record is against the teams above them, it is their results against the eight teams below them in the table which has set them on course for survival.

In 15 matches against the bottom eight - United must still host bottomof-the-table West Bromwich Albion at St James' Park on April 28 - the Magpies have collected an astonishing 29 points.

That means a staggering 83 per cent of Newcastle's current tally of 35 have been picked up against their nearest competitors. …

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