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Rafa Benitez having a discussion with other coaches at a training session

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Rafa expects 'great atmosphere' for Villa visit

Written by Rory Mitchinson

Rafa Benitez is anticipating a memorable atmosphere at St. James’ Park as Newcastle United and Aston Villa lock horns on Monday night.

The clash will be the 163rd between the two sides in all competitions – but their first in the second-tier since 1938.

After enduring a campaign to forget last term, Villa have yet to assert themselves in the Sky Bet Championship – despite a change in the dugout and a string of acquisitions.

Now under the guidance of ex-Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, the Villains sit 16th in the standings and have failed to record a victory since Boxing Day.

Benitez feels that Villa’s current position is testament to the ruthlessness of Championship football, and insists his side will be taking nothing for granted as two of the division’s heavyweights come together.

“Some people think if you spend money you have to be (up) there, but football is not one plus one equals two,” he said. “For me, it is proof of how difficult the Championship is. It is easier for a team who have been in the top six for a while to go up than a team coming down. If you are going down, normally it is because something is wrong, so you have to change things. You can change half of the squad, but you have to bring new players in and they have to settle down.

“I can understand why it is so difficult for them to do what everybody was expecting them to do. We have also spent some money and we are doing well, but I can see how difficult it is to stay there and be consistent.

“Our fans come to the stadium in numbers and support the team – it doesn’t matter the name of the other team. But, we are talking about a very, very big club who have done really well in history. They have very good players and an experienced manager. It will be a great atmosphere, and the fans will enjoy it if we win, because when you have a strong team in front of you, it is always even better.”

United will head into the clash at the top of the Championship should Brighton & Hove Albion fail to overcome Barnsley at Oakwell tomorrow.

The Magpies are unbeaten in the division since the beginning of January, having rescued a late point at Norwich City on Tuesday evening.

Benitez is hopeful his charges can take heart from their showing at Carrow Road, paying tribute to the “character” they displayed in fighting back from a half-time deficit.

And, with leading goalscorer Dwight Gayle in contention for a starting berth and Vurnon Anita back in training, the Spaniard will have more-or-less a full squad to choose from come Monday night.

“To react in that way (at Norwich) was important – not just in that game, but for the rest of the competition. It means we have character, passion, and the players care about what is going on,” he said.

“I was happy with the performance of the team – everything was quite positive in the end. And the good news is that we have a lot of players coming back. Dwight Gayle has been training, Vurnon Anita has been training today, and Isaac Hayden is having an operation on his ankle today – which had been causing him problems.

“I can only praise my players, the staff, and everyone here. Everyone is pushing in the same direction. The players realise if they stick together, that is the way to perform, to win games and stay where we are at the moment. But, there is still a long way to go and we have to carry on with the same mentality and ideas.”

"(Aston Villa) have very good players and an experienced manager. It will be a great atmosphere, and the fans will enjoy it if we win, because when you have a strong team in front of you, it is always even better."

Rafa Benitez

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