Rafa expects 'totally different' Brighton battle
Written by Rory Mitchinson
Rafa Benítez does not expect last season’s closely-fought race for the Championship title to have any bearing on Newcastle United’s trip to Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday.
Less than five months have passed since a last-minute goal from Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish denied the Seagulls the victory that would have sent the trophy to the Amex Stadium. Instead, it was United – who trailed Chris Hughton’s side by seven points with three games remaining – who were crowned champions in unforgettable fashion.
In the months prior, the Magpies twice got the better of their nearest rivals, winning 2-0 at St. James’ Park before completing a remarkable late turnaround on the South Coast in February.
But Benítez, whose side sit a lofty fourth in the Premier League after a hat-trick of victories, insists that Sunday’s clash is likely to prove a different kind of encounter altogether.
“I think it will be totally different. Last year was last year – it was another competition and everything will be different,” he said. “It will be tough for us, because it’s the Premier League and we know that every game will be tough for us. But, at the same time, we have confidence that we can get three points. We know each other really well and it will be difficult for both.
“I think the level of the two teams could be similar. We have won three games in a row but they could do the same anytime – hopefully not starting this weekend. They are a good team and they can do well. We can do well, but sometimes it depends on the momentum. We are in a good position and we think we can win, but it is not that we will go there and be favourites – we will try to compete, to win and be confident we can do it, but at the same time, I think they will have the same feeling.”
A fourth win in six outings would take United’s points tally up to 12. Two years ago, during their last campaign as a top-flight club, it took the Magpies until December to accrue the same number.
Despite an impressive start, Benítez feels there is still more to come from his side, and spoke of the hard work that has taken place on the training pitch ahead of another long-haul journey.
“I have looked at the table, but I am not really concerned about that. My main responsibility is to be sure the team play with the same intensity, and we approach every game like it is the most important one,” he said. “I said after the last game that we still have plenty of room for improvement. We are trying to improve in attack and defence.
“At the moment, we are working as hard as we were last year, but doing things a little bit better in some games. I think it’s important to keep this confidence high but be sure that we don’t have overconfidence. We have to be sure that the players train well, work hard and approach the game with the same mentality as they have done in the last three.”
"Last year was last year – it was another competition and everything will be different."