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Pellegrino's progress no surprise to Rafa

Written by Rory Mitchinson

Rafa Benítez admits he has not been surprised to see protégé Mauricio Pellegrino make a name for himself as a manager, with the two men’s teams set to go head to head at St. Mary’s on Sunday.

46-year-old Pellegrino played under Benítez at both Valencia and Liverpool, returning to the latter as a coach before following the Spaniard to Internazionale in 2010.

He has since established himself as a boss in his own right, most notably with La Liga side Deportivo Alavés, who he led to the final of the Copa del Rey last term.

And, as the master and apprentice prepare to take their place in opposite dugouts for the first time, Benítez reflected on Pellegrino’s route to the Premier League.

“He was my player at Valencia for two years, when we won the league and the UEFA Cup. After he came to England, I needed someone to manage the defence a little bit, and I brought him (to Liverpool). His English was not amazing, so it was not easy for him, but still, he was my player at Liverpool, and after that, he was my assistant in Italy, so I obviously have a very good relationship with him,” the Magpies’ boss said.

“Last year, he was at Alavés and he was doing well. He is someone who has always been focused, working very hard. When I was at Valencia, we had a group of Argentinian players who, after every lunch, were talking about football for half an hour to an hour. He was one of them. He was one of these players, they enjoy football, they know about players, they talk about everything in relation to football. From the beginning, you could see that he could be a good coach.”

Even prior to the Saints’ move from the Dell, Newcastle have struggled on their visits to Southampton. They have only won a single Premier League game at St. Mary’s, and have been beaten on each of their last four trips.

However, the Magpies sit two points better off than Sunday’s opponents after an impressive start to life back in the top flight, and Benítez is hopeful his side can take heart from their recent displays ahead of another long-haul journey.

“For us, it is important to have confidence in ourselves, but we have to be sure it is not over-confidence,” he said. “We go there, and we know the record is not amazing, so we have to do really well if we want to get points and to stay like we are at the moment – in a good position in the table, and doing well.

“Preparing for the game, analysing everything they are doing, (Southampton) are a good team, who are maybe not as lucky as they deserve. They are playing well, but still they are not scoring too many goals. Hopefully, they will continue like that this week, and after, they will do well.”

"He was my player at Liverpool, and after that, he was my assistant in Italy, so I obviously have a very good relationship with him. From the beginning, you could see that he could be a good coach."

Rafa Benítez

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