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Benítez optimistic ahead of season opener

Rafa Benítez is optimistic his Newcastle United side can replicate the success of their 2017/18 campaign as they prepare to kick off a new Premier League season.

The Magpies secured a top-half finish last time out – the first newly-promoted team to do so since West Ham United in 2012/13.

They start the new campaign in exactly the same fashion they did a year ago, with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hostpur the visitors to St. James’ Park.

Benítez has recruited seven new players – including five on a permanent basis – over the summer, and with the bulk of last year’s squad still in place, the Spaniard insisted that the Magpies are capable of establishing themselves as a competitive Premier League outfit once more.

“We have to do exactly what we did last year – the fans, the commitment of these players, the togetherness, the work-rate – everything that we did right, we have to do now,” he said. “During the summer, you have to try to improve your squad as much as possible. As soon as you finish, you have to try and concentrate on football. The fans could expect, ‘Oh, Rafa, he will be upset. He will say “this”, he will say “that”.’ But, it’s not the time to do that. It’s the time to be sure that we can win games on the pitch, and we can compete.

“The team we have, the majority of them were here last season and we finished tenth. That’s a great achievement for them, and a great achievement for us. Now, we have added some players. It’s good, it’s positive, it could be better – always, you can improve, and be better – but at the moment it is what we have. I’m really pleased with the commitment of these players, and the things they have done last year. The things they can do this year, with more competition in the squad, I am quite positive on that.”

Spurs were the only club in the Premier League not to add to their squad during the transfer window – something which came as a surprise to Benítez.

Still, with the majority of their starting players having figured in the latter stages of this summer’s World Cup in Russia, the Spaniard is all too aware of the task ahead of his side, though he does not expect last season’s curtain-raiser – in which Jonjo Shelvey saw red in a 2-0 victory for the Londoners – to have any bearing on Saturday’s clash.

“Every season, every game is different. I think Jonjo is more mature. The players know we’re playing against a very good team, and the key is to stay focused and have the right mindset from the first moment,” he said. “To be fair, it was a silly thing – it was not a bad tackle, or something like that. It’s nothing to do with what will happen tomorrow.

“I would say it is a surprise that (Spurs) didn’t sign anyone. But at the same time, they had at least 11 players in the World Cup. We are talking about one of the best teams in the Premier League, and in terms of English players, Tottenham are the best team.”

"I’m really pleased with the commitment of these players, and the things they have done last year. The things they can do this year, with more competition in the squad, I am quite positive on that."

Rafa Benítez

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