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We Must Start Well, Says Rafa

Written by Newcastle Utd

Rafa Benitez says his sole focus is on assembling a Magpies squad that is "strong enough" to kick off the campaign in style

By Tom Easterby - Newcastle United Club Reporter


After learning that his side will travel to face Fulham in their first outing of the 2016/17 Championship season, Rafa Benitez says his sole focus is on assembling a Newcastle United squad that is "strong enough" to kick off the campaign in style.

Benitez and his side head to the capital for the Craven Cottage clash on Friday, 5th August, with the second tier curtain-raiser set to be screened live on Sky Sports.

That game is followed by the back-to-back visits of Huddersfield Town and Reading to St. James' Park, before a trip to Bristol City and a home game with Chris Hughton's Brighton and Hove Albion bring the first month of the season to a close.

And former Real Madrid boss Benitez insists that while his task now is to ready his players for the first game against the Cottagers, he is not overly concerned with the details of the fixture list that has been meted out to the Magpies.

"I am not the kind of manager who is really worried about the fixtures and our rivals," he told nufc.co.uk. "My idea is that you have to play against everyone, and when you will play against them doesn't change too much in theory.

"What we do have to do is to prepare our team in the best way possible, to make sure we are strong enough to start the season in a good way, and to carry on until the end.

"You can say that we will play against Fulham in the first game, away and live (on television), but it doesn't change too much for me. Will it be difficult? Yes. Do we have to respect them? Yes.

"But the main thing is how good will we be this day, and how good we have to be during the whole season."

August's hat-trick of home games will give the United faithful the chance to see how Benitez's team adapt to the Championship, with the manager's first pre-season at the Club behind them.

And the Spaniard believes that the Magpies' form on Tyneside is of paramount importance, and wants to make sure trips to St. James' Park aren't something opponents will look forward to this coming season.

"I think that the fans make the difference for us," he said. "Last year, in the time that I was here, they were amazing, and hopefully they will be the same this season.

"You see the stadium, you see everything here, the atmosphere - it has to be intimidating for our rivals, and we have to win our games at home."

The traditionally hectic festive schedule, too, has been kind to Newcastle and their supporters, with United set to welcome Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day and Nottingham Forest on New Year's Eve.

"I remember when I was at Liverpool, I would always say that's a crucial period, but it is true," explained Benitez. "You have so many games in a short period of time, and you don't have time to recover. It's really important to be sure that you've got a good squad - that you can rotate players, change players, and still do well.

"The fans enjoy this time, and we have to do well in it. Hopefully we can enjoy it after that period too."

Only seven of the 24 teams in the Championship have not previously held Premier League status.

Benitez - who, earlier in his managerial career, won promotion from the Spanish second tier with Extremadura and Tenrife - believes that statistic is indicative of a rise in class in the division, and anticipates an entertaining 10 months ahead.

"There are a lot of ex-Premier League teams playing in the Championship now, so the level is higher. I think it will be very interesting," he said.

"There is more quality around the division, so I think that you will see better games - and it will always be exciting."

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